The high-profile prosecution of two Azerbaijani youth activists and bloggers continued on November 6, marking the beginning of the third month of proceedings. In addition to testimony from the alleged victims, cell phone records from the investigatory file were introduced into evidence. Citing privacy concerns, the judge, however, refused to grant the defense access to the alleged victims' records.
Twenty-six-year-old Adnan Hajizade, a co-founder of the OL (To Be) youth movement, and 30-year-old Emin Milli, a co-founder of the online Alumni Network, were arrested on July 8 for hooliganism after they allegedly started a brawl in a Baku cafe. Numerous witnesses have testified, however, that Hajizade and Milli were not the aggressors, but rather the victims of the attack. [For details see Eurasia Insight archive].
During Friday's hearing, the complainants, Vusal Mammadov and Babek Huseynov, were back in court to present additional testimony. Mammadov, who has throughout the trial struggled to answer basic questions, continued to falter on the stand. He could not say whether the doctors who treated him after the brawl were men or women. He also admitted he could not remember whether he wrote his own statement at the police station. Even the judge showed exasperation with his testimony, asking him if he has always struggled with memory problems.
The courtroom broke into a mele of rising voices in the middle of Mammadov's testimony when Milli complained he could not hear the witness speak. "When [Vusal Mammadov] was beating me, he was screaming very loudly. Now he speaks softly," Milli said from behind the courtroom bars. "You are a hero of the system. Be courageous and speak loudly."
Azercell phone records, found in the investigator's file, were introduced into evidence at the hearing. The records contain multiple calls and show the physical location of the parties.
The defense, viewing the records for the first time, moved to obtain copies for further analysis. Mammadov objected because the list contains phone numbers of those "dear to our hearts" and worried his family's privacy might be invaded. The court agreed and refused the defense's motion.
The hearing was adjourned, and the men will be in court again on November 11. There is no indication, however, that the trial will conclude soon. Meanwhile, the men sit in prison.
The duo has now spent over four months behind bars. Although Hajizade and Milli have repeatedly sought release on bail, the court has denied each request.
Releasing [a defendant] before the trial on bail is rare, commented legal and media expert Rashid Hajili. "Judges don't approach [bail] as a right of the defendants. Instead, they think that it is something the judge can present as a gift," Hajili added.
One Azerbaijani judge has also observed that bail is too often refused. "When issuing a [decision remanding the defendant], a judge must justify his/her decision. To do this, a judge must examine the criminal case in depth, but many judges do not do so. The courts pass decisions on arrest in cases when there is no need," Supreme Court Judge Muzaffar Aghazadeh told Trend News last year.
Legal analysts note the political undertones of this case also have played a role in keeping Hajizade and Milli in prison during their trial. "In this kind of case, defendants are never released on bail, especially with journalists, human rights defenders, and political prisoners," said Emin Huseynov, head of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety.
Another hurdle for defendants seeking release from prison is the sum required to post bail. Even for minor offenses with potential sentences of less than two years, a defendant must pay over 5,000 manats ($6,200) to obtain pre-trial release. In a country where 24 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, many defendants never request bail because they cannot afford the cost.
Jessica Powley Hayden is a freelance reporter based in Baku.