Azerbaijani authorities have detained at least 10 opposition activists in an effort to prevent a public rally planned for April 2, 2011, in Baku, the capital, Human Rights Watch said. The arrests are the government’s latest attempt to prevent the type of protests in North Africa and the Middle East from spreading to Azerbaijan.
Police detained the activists on March 31 in Baku and various provinces. The protests planned for April 2 have been organized by Azerbaijan’s opposition parties and young social network users. The activists were quickly convicted in summary trials on charges of disobeying police orders and sentenced to administrative – or misdemeanor – detention ranging from five to thirteen days, which would keep them locked up beyond the protest date.
“It is clear that the authorities are determined to crush any attempts by opposition activists to gather peacefully,” said Rachel Denber, acting director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “They should immediately release those detained and allow for peaceful assembly in line with Azerbaijan’s international commitments.”
Police in Sumgait, a city 40 kilometers north of Baku, rounded up at least two activists, Ibrahim Mammedzade , a political activist who ran in the November 2010 parliamentary elections, and Elchin Salimov, an opposition Musavat party youth activist. Police went to Mammedzade’s home on the morning of March 31 but did not find him there. Mammedzade later went to the Sumgait Municipal Police Department on his own accord, together with his lawyer, Asabali Mustafayev.
After about an hour-long conversation with the deputy police chief, in which Mammedzade was asked about his educational background and political activities, the deputy police chief assured Mustafayev that Mammedzade would not be detained. However, later in the day, police detained him, and a court sentenced him to seven days administrative detention for allegedly disobeying a police order. The trial was closed, and the judge refused to wait for Mustafayev to arrive, he told Human Rights Watch:
After police assured us that they had no intention of arresting him, I told my client to go home and notify me if the police contacted him again. Around 6 p.m., on my way to Baku, I got a call from the same police officer telling me that Mammedzade was detained. I explained that I would be there in hour and a half. However, when I came back to Sumgait I found out that he had already been sentenced to seven days.
Mustafayev also told Human Rights Watch that Salimov had been picked up at home in the early hours of March 31 and sentenced to seven days of administrative detention for disobeying a police order.
Around 8 a.m. plainclothes police in Baku detained Tabriz Gasimov, a second-year university student who is an active social media user, in a subway station while he was on his way to the university. The Sabail District Court judge hearing Gasimov’s case refused to wait an hour to allow his lawyer to prepare and get to the courthouse. Instead, he sentenced Gasimov within 10 minutes to five days of administrative detention for allegedly disobeying a police order. Gasimov, who will appeal the sentence, had already served seven days for participation in an unsanctioned rally on March 12.
The Mobile Group of Lawyers, a group uniting several lawyers and providing pro bono legal aid to the detainees, said that other activists detained in Baku on March 31 and convicted of disobeying police orders included: Rovshan Nasirli, blogger and active social network user, who was sentenced by the Yasamal District Court to nine days; Namat Aliyev, opposition Popular Front Party member, sentenced to seven days by Nizami District Court; Khalid Amanli, an opposition Musavat party youth activist, sentenced to eight days by Yasamal District Court; and Kerim Mehdiyev, the driver for the opposition Popular Front Party leader, sentenced to 13 days by the Binagadi District Court.
Human Rights Watch received unconfirmed reports about five additional detentions.
“The government is using the flimsiest pretexts to silence critics,” Denber said. “It is making a mockery of Azerbaijan’s justice system. These arrests should stop immediately.”
In early March police broke up peaceful rallies in Baku, and rounded up more than 100 participants or people who had intended to take part. At least 30 were convicted on misdemeanor charges of disobeying police orders or participating in an unsanctioned rally. Sentences ranged from five to eight days.
Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as a number of other international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The crackdown to prevent peaceful protest is a blatant violation of Azerbaijan’s obligations under international law and as a member of the Council of Europe, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch urged the Council of Europe and Azerbaijan’s other international partners, such as the European Union, its individual member states, and the United States government, to condemn the ongoing crackdown in Azerbaijan and call for an end to abuses.