Case of convicted blogger and Azerbaijan's blog sphere

Case of convicted blogger and Azerbaijan's blog sphere

Situation concerning convict videobloger Mehman Huseynov has been discussed in Azerbaijan and abroad for the past three weeks. On December 26 of last year, he was accused of assaulting officer during routine inspection of the prison. At the same time, two months remain until the end of the term of Huseynov’s imprisonment (he was sentenced to two years in 2017), and criminal case under article 315.2 (resistance or use of violence dangerous to life or health against representative of law) of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code may lead to him getting additional 5 to 7 years in prison.

Mehman Huseynov denies all charges against him. In protest, at the end of December of last year, he announced his hunger strike, which was supported by active information campaign of the opposition on social networks. “Either these illegal charges will be dropped, or I will starve to death,” Huseynov said. Campaign was aimed at attracting public and international attention in order to exert pressure on official Baku.

As for hunger strike, it turns out that blogger wasn't really planning to put his health at serious risk. There are many inconsistencies with this hunger strike story. Officials claim that despite all the hype in the media and social networks, hunger strike actually lasted only one day. Head of the PR department of the prison Mehman Sadigov said: “He announced hunger strike, but started eating in the morning. He even signed a document that proves it. He eats food, bread, drinks water, meets with his lawler, talks to his family by phone. There are no problems. As you know, if someone has health problems, doctor immediately intervenes. However, this was not necessary because there was no real hunger strike." It should also be noted that the photo, distributed by human rights activists almost a week after hunger strike announcement, shows that Mehman Huseynov doesn’t look exhausted.

On January 11, blogger appealed to the media: "A message was posted on social networks recently, stating that I was allegedly in critical condition and was immediately taken to medical institution. This information caused serious concern of my father and loved ones. I believe that everyone should be personally responsible for their actions and things they write... I would like to bring to attention of people who love me, that I fine, I eat and try to get into better condition after hunger strike. I expect that this case will be reviewed fairly."

That's why it's so strange to see reports from social networks and media, funded by Western liberal elite, that say that as of right now Huseynov "has been starving for Baku prison two weeks." Although, considering what kind of source of funding such media projects have, everythings gets clear.

So who is Mehman Huseynov? His activity boils down to reporting on everyday topics, topics of the day - improperly laid asphalt, illegal tree cutting, demolition of dilapidated houses in poor neighborhoods of the capital and dissatisfaction of residents with officials. The latter was done without any evidences, just like other professional investigative bloggers do. Mehman Huseynov’s blog, which has 330,000 subscribers, is currently being maintained on by his elder brother Emin, who lives in Paris.

It's no coincidence that French Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately responded to this situation (so far this is the only reaction of foreign ministry of any country on this issue), even before investigation ended, expressing concern and hope for blogger's release.

Before moving to France, Emin Huseynov headed non-governmental organization called the Reporters' Freedom and Safety Institute, funded by the Soros Open Society Institute and Western governments. For many years, he had access to all embassies until law enforcement officers started to investigate his activities five years ago. Emin Huseynov was accused of tax evasion, after which he hid from the police at the Swiss Embassy for several months. Authorities gave him the opportunity to leave the country after Switzerland paid off his debts. Perhaps after his release, Mehman Huseynov will join his older brother, leaving for France, since French Foreign Ministry already said it's willing to provide him "political asylum".

One way or another, this blogger's story showed interesting trends in the information field of Azerbaijan.

First of all, it became clear that social networks in the country became a space of absolute freedom of speech. On the Internet, users have opportunity to freely express their dissatisfaction and criticize authorities in any form. Government may not be happy with this, but it doesn't take any restrictive administrative steps. In a truly authoritarian state - and that's how Azerbaijan's critics in the West or pseudoliberal opposition within the country see it - no criticizm would be allowed.

Second of all, current "fake news" trend also affected Azerbaijan. Anti-government sentiments were fueled by fake information about alleged "critical" state of the blogger. And it's hard for bureaucratic state structures to keep up with dynamics of social networks.

Third of all, Azerbaijani segment of social networks shows desire of users to see reality only in "black and white". Alternative information gets accepted easier than reports of government agencies. Various conspiracy theories appear. This phenomenon is also observed in Western democracies - mainstream media and state press services are successfully discredited by right-wing populists.

Fourth of all, there are clear attempts to "demonize" Azerbaijan's government. No government is perfect, and that's also true for Azerbaijan. However, those who insist on the theory of "cruelty of the state machine" either have no idea of what truly cruel authorities are or deliberately distort facts.