What happens on a Wednesday night if you’re one of the city’s most wired people, an avid Twitter and Facebook user, plugged in with non-governmental organizations, with a penchant for visiting like-minded folks in other European cities? In most cities and countries, not much remarkable: meeting friends, tweeting or sms’ing to coordinate, maybe romance arrives, maybe the night closes with parties or dancing or a good drink. But maybe if the city is Baku and the country is Azerbaijan and the person is Emin Milli, something else entirely happens.
Maybe while you’re in a cafe with friends two toughs come up to you in the cafe and start cursing you. Then before you can get in a word edgewise, they start to hit you and your friend Adnan Hadji-Zadeh. What happens when the police get involved? You go to the station to deal with the complaint. The toughs are let go. You are kept overnight and, by several accounts, beaten again, this time by the police. When the case — on charges of hooliganism — comes before a judge on Friday, you get two months of prison. The toughs? Long since let go. Apparently sitting in a cafe talking with friends constitutes hooliganism in today’s Azerbaijan.
(There’s a small chance that this will backfire for the government. Hadji-Zadeh has done PR work for BP, one of the largest investors in Azerbaijan. The country’s president is in London on Monday, and this case has gone up the ranks quickly enough that it will be raised with Aliyev in person. US, EU, German, OSCE and other international representatives are pressing the case in-country. French, UK and Austrian media are reporting. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is on the case. Reports and organizing efforts are also crossing social networking sites. Authoritarians don’t like looking foolish, and this case makes the authorities in Baku look very foolish indeed. Detentions for “hooliganism” are an old Soviet tactic; they have no place in a country that has ratified numerous European agreements on human rights and that aims for closer relations with the European community of nations.)