Being an online activist in Azerbaijan is becoming riskier by the day. As Onnik Krikorian chronicles on TOL today, the last few weeks have seen several activists either interrogated or arrested after posting provocative messages on Facebook; supporters claim the charges are trumped up, in the same way that the two “donkey” bloggers (Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli) were imprisoned in 2009.
An article also published today by the Azerbaijan Press Agency picks up on one of the government’s tactics that Onnik mentions: smearing the protests called for 11 March by associating them with Armenia (as well as some nefarious Azerbaijans living abroad and the local opposition). The article is basically a compilation of quotes from Mubariz Gurbanli, a parliamentary deputy and deputy executive director of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP). He says that youth activists from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) have “investigated” the campaign launched on Twitter and Facebook and concluded that “most” of those involved are living outside the country. In Gurbanli’s words (I’m not vouching for the quality of the translation, but you get the gist):
It was also identified that falsified number of those who joined these calls was shown on social networks. Few people joined this call and most of them are living abroad. On the other hand, the people involved in 11 March groups were involved in other groups earlier and later they were misappropriated. They had other names. They changed names several times and misappropriated the numbers of people involved in the groups of youth education, free time and others. We attached attention to other nuance. There were young Armenians introducing themselves as the supporters of 11 March group. They sent messages in Armenian that they also joined this movement. A ridiculous situation was created there: They want to hold actions in Baku, Azerbaijan, but most of them are living abroad, and some in Armenia. Does the Armenian come to Baku to participate in the meeting? It is very ridiculous. This fact shows that radical opposition is ready to work with Armenians against Azerbaijan.
I think “misappropriated” is supposed to be “inflated”. In other words, supposed participants used multiple names to generate the impression that a lot of people are involved in calling for a day of protest. In any case, Gurbanli finds it incredibly hard to believe that any young people could be fed up with their government:
That is why I can not imagine any mass action, unrest in Baku, Azerbaijan neither on March 11 nor March 12 because Azerbaijani youth supports President Ilham Aliyev’s policy. Azerbaijani students studying abroad send us thousands letters and condemn uproar occurred related to March 11. We also see it in messages to different groups created by YAP youth in social networks.
This latest diatribe has some people worrying that another round of arrests for Facebook activists is on the way. When Hajizade and Milli went to jail, effect on online activism was chilling. After their release, more people seem to have been emboldened. We’ll see what happens this time.