The University of Richmond's Bonner Center for Civic Engagement will host a panel discussion Sept. 11, regarding the imprisonment of a former student who is being held in Azerbaijan.
Adnan Hajizada, a 2005 Richmond graduate, and his fellow blogger, Emin Milli, were arrested July 8 after being involved in a fight in the capital Baku. Witnesses say they were beaten by police, who then charged them with hooliganism and deliberate infliction of serious damage to health.
The trial for the hooliganism charge began on Sept. 8 with another trial for the second charge yet to be determined.
Members of the university panel will give background on the situation and have a question-and-answer session, said Katreena Clark, coordinator of events and publications for the Office of International Education.
The panel will be composed of Vincent Wang, chairman of the political science department at Richmond; Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, chairman of Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy' and Stephanie Rice, a Collegian reporter who has covered the story extensively.
Chakhtakhtinski will be "speaking about the history and mission of his organization, Clark said. "[He] will provide some context of the situation in Azerbaijan."
Wang led a group of 18 University of Richmond professors and administrators in writing a letter to Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan. They also sent the letter to Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, Wang said. The letter asks for "a thorough investigation into the incidents of July 8 involving the violence against them and a fair and expedient trial."
"Over the summer, the news about their beating and arrest spread on campus," Wang said. "Several professors felt very concerned about not only the fate of one of our former students, but also the general condition of human rights in Azerbaijan."
The two bloggers were using the Internet to advance ideas of change, Wang said.
"We feel it's in the purview of freedom of expression," Wang said. "So for those two reasons, concern for our students and concern about freedom, academic freedom in particular, prompted us to write the letter."
The letter has been used in presentations by the U.S. Embassy and European Union to the foreign ministry of Azerbaijan, Wang said.
The Center for Civic Engagement and the Office of International Education wanted to co-sponsor a discussion about this topic, said Adrienne Piazza, coordinator of events and student outreach at the Center for Civic Engagement. The story covers a lot of topics that the CCE wanted to discuss, she said. Issues such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press are important aspects of this case.
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"We hope that this panel can help people reflect upon the value of freedom," Wang said. "I think it will be helpful for the majority of our students to understand that the conditions of freedom and the organization of government vary. A lot of things that we take for granted are hotly contested in other countries.
"We also hope that young people should be idealistic so hopefully this panel will encourage their activism."
Contact reporter Stephen Utz at firstname.lastname@example.org
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