Opposition representatives and citizens protest results of the parliamentary elections held in February 2020; Protesters detained ahead of planned protest; Journalists and observers attacked while covering the parliamentary elections; European Court of Human Rights reaches a verdict on journalist Khadija Ismayilova’s complaint about her unlawful arrest in December 2014
While elections in Azerbaijan have regularly been falsified, protests have been relatively rare. This time, though, expectations among some in the opposition were higher https://t.co/3pnw3RP85o— Eurasianet (@EurasiaNet) February 12, 2020
Parliamentary elections spark protests
Immediately after the results of the parliamentary elections held on 9th February 2020 were announced, opposition representatives and citizens began to organise protests. This followed complaints by observers and opposition candidates, and invalidation of results in several polling stations after results were disputed. On 11th February 2020, the Radio Free Europe reported that Azerbaijani police had detained at least 20 people at a demonstration in Baku, where several participants were injured as protesters expressed dissatisfaction over widespread election violations.
The following week, Garda.com reported that authorities had detained more than 100 activists ahead of an unauthorised protest in Baku on 16th February. The protest was scheduled to take place in front of the Central Election Commission (CEC) building to denounce the election results. Several activists were picked up from their homes by authorities, while others were picked up outside the CEC building. Before this incident, the Musavat party, ReAl and D18 movements, as well as some independent candidates, had notified the Baku Mayor's office of their intention to hold a rally to contest the election results. The authorities instead invited them to hold the event at the Garadag sports and training base, in the district of Baku. The opposition rejected this proposal and insisted on having the rally in the Baku city centre.
Protests continued in the days that followed. On 21st February 2020, a group of candidates for the parliamentary elections held a protest in front of the Central Election Commission against the head of CEC, Mazahir Panahov, blaming him for the disputed election results.
In early March 2020, the Commissioner of the Council of Europe published a letter addressed to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan, Mr Vilayat Eyvazov, where she expressed concern about the violent dispersal of demonstrators in the election-related protests in Baku and the limitations imposed on freedom of assembly. The Commissioner called for investigations into the infliction of injuries on protesters and journalists as a result of excessive force by the police.
I strongly deplore last night’s harassment of & violence against journalists, reporting on a protest regarding recent legislative elections, by law enforcement in #Azerbaijan. Media must be able to cover such events without intimidation or violence. See: https://t.co/nta3fIWXLu— OSCE media freedom (@OSCE_RFoM) February 12, 2020
Journalists attacked while covering parliamentary elections
Many journalists and observers present at several polling stations reported having been subjected to physical attacks and aggression, as well restrictions on their activities despite accreditation.
A journalist filming at a polling station in the Surakhani district of Baku was attacked by a civilian who asked her to stop filming. Journalist Fatima Movlamla reported that members of the Surakhani regional commission prohibited her from filming, despite her accreditation as a journalist.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the attacks and restrictions on media representatives following the February parliamentary elections and called on authorities to investigate all cases of attack. RSF documented at least 18 cases of violence and restrictions against journalists who were reporting on the electoral process.
Azeri authorities ordered to compensate journalist Khadija Ismayilova in new ECHR judgment
On 27th February2020, the European Court of Human Rights reached a verdict on journalist Khadija Ismayilova’s complaint about her unlawful arrest in December 2014, for which she was imprisoned for seven and a half years on trumped up charges of economic crime. The European Court found that the Azeri authorities are guilty of violating Ismayilova’s human rights, including the right to liberty and security of person, the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression. The Azeri government was ordered to pay compensation of 25.000 euros within three months from the date of final judgment.
Deputy director of Amnesty International for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev stated that the Ismayilova case was clear evidence of the prosecution of critical voices in Azerbaijan, and called on the Azerbaijani authorities to lift all illegal restrictions and sentences against Ismayilova, and comply with the European Court’s decision to compensate her.
Amnesty International Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia Denis Krivosheev said:
“The case of Khadija Ismayilova, a well-known journalist serving a false imprisonment sentence, testified to the persecution of critical voices in Azerbaijan. The court found violations of her rights to freedom and the presumption of innocence, concluding that the authorities sought to silence her and punish her for her journalistic work.
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Khadija Ismayilova was arrested in December 2014 and sentenced in September 2015 to seven and a half years detention on trumped up charges for tax evasion and abuse of authority. She was later conditionally released from detention in 2016 but has since had a travel ban imposed that prevents her from leaving the country.