Milli first made headlines in Azerbaijan in 2009 when he and a friend, Adnan Hajizada, posted their now famous donkey video on YouTube.

Dressed likeUsing an ass in a costume Milli had picked up in New York, Milli the donkey held a mock press conference to poke fun of the government’s purchase of two donkeys for 40,000 euros each from Germany. Here in Austria, a donkey costs about 850 euros.

The authorities were not amused. Milli and Hajizada were sentenced to 30 months in prison. They were released a day apart after serving 16 months, primarily due to strong international pressure.

When he got out, Milli said he found it hard to get work. Former employers fear retaliation from the government if they hire him, he said. He still works as a translator when he can. Currently he’s writing short stories, which he plans to translate into English and sell. He said he would use the 1,000-euro speaking fee he got from the conference to pay off debts.

His wife divorced him after he got out of prison and has since left Azerbaijan. But the YouTube experience left Milli resolved to stay and fight.

“The Internet is the only effective tool for people like me,” he said. The government wants to marginalize writers, he added. “If international media give us a platform, then people in Azerbaijan may read it and change their mind. It breaks the narrative.”

That is why Milli tweeted throughout the panel discussion to his 4,957 followers. It is also why he posted photos of the conference on his Facebook page.

Except the one with Zimmermann.

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Alison Langley has more than 25 years experience in journalism as a reporter and editor. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The FT and The Independent. She currently lectures in journalism at Fachhochschule Wien and Webster University Vienna.