BAKU (RFE/RL)–The European Union’s special envoy to the South Caucasus has welcomed the release in Azerbaijan of two bloggers whose jailing caused an international outcry — but says more progress is needed in press freedom and other areas, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service reports.
Peter Semneby told RFE/RL Monday he was “very glad” Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada — popularly known as the “donkey bloggers” — were freed early by an appeals court in Baku last week.
The two had been serving jail terms for hooliganism over a scuffle in a restaurant. But supporters said the real reason for their imprisonment had been their satirical Internet video that showed a donkey giving a government press conference.
Semneby was described by a person close to the case as having worked hard for the bloggers’ release.
“I don’t want to speculate as to the reasons and why specifically now, etc.,” Semneby said. “I simply want to stress the fact that they are free. I am very happy. And Azerbaijan’s European partners are very happy that the judicial process, in the end, resulted in them being freed before the end of Adnan and Emin’s [jail] term. It’s a good thing.”
Nonetheless, he added the case showed some issues still need to be worked on in Azerbaijan, including legal reforms and press freedom.
Semneby said Europe would continue to pay close attention to the case of another journalist, jailed editor Eynulla Fatullayev.
The European Court of Human Rights in April ruled that Azerbaijan had violated Fatullayev’s right to a free trial and ruled that the authorities should release him and pay him 25,000 euros ($33,512) in moral damages.
The country’s Supreme Court last week lifted some charges against Fatullayev, including defamation and instigating terrorism. But he remains behind bars on charges of drug possession — brought while he was in prison — that he says are fabricated.
Baku’s Court of Appeals today upheld the drugs-possession conviction.