Civil Rights Defenders Condemns Violent Crackdowns on Peaceful Protests in Azerbaijan
On Saturday, Azerbaijani police detained more than 100 people at a peaceful protest rally in central Baku, including the leader of the opposition party Popular Front. Civil Rights Defenders calls upon the Azerbaijani authorities to respect freedom of assembly and investigate the mass arrests and use of excessive force to disperse protests in Baku on Saturday and Sunday.
The Azerbaijani government insists the rally was illegal as the organisers did not obtain a permit; however, this legislation is not in line with European standards and by routinely refusing to sanction protests, the government has made complying with the law impossible. As a member of the Council of Europe and signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, the violent crackdown and dispersal of the protests is a clear violation of Article 11 of the Convention.
The response to the protest was both excessive and severely violent. Mobile and broadband internet were shut down in the city center, a first in the country’s history. Several metro stations were closed and major downtown streets blocked off in advance of the rally. The scale of the crackdown has made determining exact numbers unclear, but in addition to the arrests at the rally, at least 10 individuals were arrested beforehand and sentenced to administrative detention. One of them, the mother of the former political prisoner and activist Giyas Ibrahimov, was held by police all Saturday without charges or explanation.
On Sunday, feminist activists, some of whom were minors, held a separate peaceful rally condemning violence against women and for Azerbaijan to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. This rally was also violently dispersed.
Despite the efforts of the government to limit coverage of the protests by shutting down the internet, there is abundant evidence on social media of the use of excessive force and violence against protesters and journalists. Many of those detained have not been permitted to meet with a lawyer and are being held incommunicado after being sentenced to administrative arrest for 15 or 30 days – a tactic the Azerbaijani police have used in the past to hide physical evidence of torture. The detained activist and journalist Tofiq Yaqublu told his family that he had broken a rib and was being denied medical care, and opposition leader Ali Karimli said he was beaten unconscious while in police custody.
The Azerbaijani government has responded hostilely to international criticism. In a formal statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan referred an EU statement on the protests as adhering to “double standards” and added “it is unacceptable to speak with Azerbaijan in such a language.” It appears to have backed down from an initial approach of portraying the protesters as tools of foreign embassies, as taped private conversations between an activist and EU and American diplomats that were broadcast by government-friendly media over the weekend had been scrubbed from the internet by Monday afternoon.
Civil Rights Defenders calls upon the Azerbaijani government to respect freedom of assembly, release the remaining detained protesters, and investigate the members of law enforcement who used excessive force against this weekend’s rallies. In light of the Azerbaijani government’s published denial of this weekend’s well-documented events, we call upon Azerbaijan’s international partners in the European Union and Council of Europe to push it to adhere to international commitments to fundamental rights and the rule of law.