Azerbaijan Doesn't Like Your Facebook Status

February 12, 2011

Jabbar Savalan has been jailed for two months pending trial on drugs charges © IRFS

The three-week grassroots protest in Egypt that brought down thirty years of autocracy in the land of the pyramids has authoritarian Azerbaijan, among others, worried.

Amnesty International’s latest statement on Azerbaijan – which, ironically, has a statue of Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian-Azerbaijani Friendship park in capital Baku – details the arrest of a youth activist:

Jabbar Savalan, a 20 19-year-old student, was arrested [on his way home from a political meeting and charged with “possessing narcotics with intent to supply”] in Sumgayit, Azerbaijan, after his Facebook status called for a “Day of Rage” in Freedom Square in Baku, echoing the calls for protest in the Middle East.


On the evening of 5 February he was interrogated without a lawyer, in violation of Article 19 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Procedure Code, and pressured into signing a confession which he has since retracted…. Police reportedly told him that his punishment had already been decided “at the highest level”.

Jabbar’s colleague Elcin Hasanov was summoned to answer questions about posts he had made on Facebook calling for youth action to support Jabbar. He was told to remove the Facebook posts.

Azerbaijan’s crackdown on Internet activism is not new. Two bloggers, finally released late last year, were charged with hooliganism after making a YouTube video mocking the government.

Time Magazine chose “you” as its person of the year in 2006 “for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game…” The “you”s in Egypt – average Internet using folk – are the men and women authoritarian governments now fear. Leaderless revolutions are becoming impossible to stop. That’s why Azerbaijan, with a president hoping to rule for decades, is prosecuting Facebook updates. And it’s not the only one.

In neighboring Armenia, were digital democracy had some case-by-case success last year, the state-run TV says that Facebook threatens the foundation of the family. “Virtual revolutionaries, hope to see you when it’s time to go to the streets!” is one of many Facebook status updates that has Armenian authorities worried. The authorities in neighboring Azerbaijan are not taking chances. Amnesty International has urged them to stop the harassment of activists inspired by Egypt protests.