A long, long time ago, before the blogosphere and Facebook came to exist, Soviet stand-up comedian Arkadiy Raikin observed that a man in the Soviet Union can be arrested for having wrong thoughts and dreams, whether or not they are ever shared with anyone. Had Raikin lived decades and a digital revolution later, in modern-day Azerbaijan, he would probably say that the wrong blog post or Facebook status can carry a prison sentence, too.
Skeptics may object that social media's power to cause political upheaval is exaggerated, but, in the wake of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, the Azerbaijani government apparently is not taking any chances.
Twenty-year-old opposition youth activist Jabbal Savalan found that to be the case on February 5 when police arrested him for marijuana possession after he had posted a Facebook appeal for a “Day of Rage” against the Azerbaijani government.
But the Wednesday hearing turned out messy. To challenge the verdict and protest the activist's arrest, Savalan’s relatives and supporters sang Azerbaijan's national anthem outside the courthouse. Police, apparently not pleased by the performance, reportedly arrested and then released the protesting group; a local journalist allegedly also suffered a bad beating.
Earlier on, Azerbaijani police also interrogated another activist, Elchin Hasanov, who like Savalan is a member of the youth wing of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, for using his Facebook page to call for mass protests against the government.
Maybe it's time for Facebook's administrators to put out a disclaimer that everything you post can be used against you?