Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Azerbaijani citizen jailed for Internet utility price protest

AP , BAKU, AZERBAIJAN

An Azerbaijani man has been sentenced to 12 days in prison for publishing a Web site complaining about rising gas, electric and transport prices in the ex-Soviet republic, an opposition activist said on Monday.

Bahtiyar Hadzhiev was sentenced by the Narimanov District Court on Sunday, four days after his Web site www.susmayaq.biz was blocked by Azerbaijani computer servers, said Emin Huseinov, an activist with an opposition youth movement.

The site, whose title translates as "we won't be silent," says it is collecting signatures from Azerbaijanis in protest at a Cabinet decision made last Monday that sharply raised prices for a range of goods and commodities in Azerbaijan.

The price hikes will have a "very negative impact on broad layers of the population" and "undermine public trust in the government and its social policies," said a statement posted on Hadzhiev's Web site.

Hadzhiev said he was convicted for not following police orders, but "in reality, he was arrested because of the harsh criticism of higher prices in the country, directly calling citizens to activism."

Court officials declined to comment on the case.

Azerbaijan is tightly controlled by President Ilham Aliev, who succeeded his father Geidar in a 2003 election that was criticized by the opposition as neither free nor fair.

In an interview with an opposition newspaper, a top aide to Aliev defended the price hikes, saying they were part of government policy.

Ali Hasanov, head of the presidential public affairs office, denied there was any public dissatisfaction with government policies, and accused the opposition of searching for any excuse to protest.

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