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EU urges Azerbaijan to free two bloggers

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(BRUSSELS) - EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on Azerbaijan on Tuesday to free two bloggers whose case has sparked international concern over freedom of speech in the ex-Soviet republic.

Last week Azerbaijan's Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, who were challenging their November 2009 convictions on hooliganism charges.

Ashton "regrets the decision by the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan on 19 August 2010 to uphold the prison sentences against youth activists Emin Abdullayev (Milli) and Adnan Hajizade," her office said in a statement.

The European Union's chief diplomat said "shortcomings of the trial, notably with regards to international standards of fairness and transparency, and its conclusion, send a negative signal with regard to the situation of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan."

The statement added: "The High Representative calls on Azerbaijan to release Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade."

Media freedom groups and foreign diplomats, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have raised concerns about the jailing of the bloggers, who were arrested after satirising the government with an Internet video that showed a donkey giving a press conference.

Hajizade, 27, was sentenced to two years in prison and Milli, 30, for two-and-a-half years.

The two bloggers were arrested in July 2009 shortly after posting the Internet video, which lampooned the country's docile press and statements by government officials.

The charges related to a scuffle in a restaurant but the bloggers and rights groups say the arrests were politically motivated.

Authorities have said the charges were unrelated to the bloggers' criticism of the government.


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