Authorities use force to disperse protests, harass journalists
On 19th October 2019, law enforcement officers violently dispersed protests in central Baku that had been organised by the National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition parties and activists in Azerbaijan. The protesters called for the release of political prisoners and for free and fair elections and protested growing unemployment and economic injustice. The police beat and roughed up the protesters and detained 60 of them, including the leader of the opposition Popular Front Party, Ali Karimli, who sustained injuries while in detention. Of those detained, 42 were released with a warning, while the other 18 cases were referred to administrative courts.
On the same day, the Internal Affairs Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office issued a warning about holding unauthorised rallies, saying that authorities would “prevent illegal actions and take serious measures, including criminal liability against those breaking the law.”
Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch said:
“Once again, the Azerbaijani government has shown complete disregard for people’s right to hold peaceful protests… The authorities should immediately release all protesters and investigate any allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement.”
The following day, on 20th October, authorities dispersed women’s rights activists who had gathered in the city centre to protest domestic violence. They wanted to highlight the killing of Leyla Mammadova, whose husband stabbed her to death in public, in front of her children and passersby. Police cordoned off the protest area and rounded up several activists, releasing them shortly afterwards.
Ahead of the October 19th opposition protests mentioned above, authorities arrested and detained 10 senior opposition party members. Opposition journalist Seymur Hazi was arrested, charged and sentenced to 15 days administrative detention on 17th October. Kramlin was arrested and detained, then released that night after he was assaulted by police officers who demanded that he state on camera that he would stop his criticism of the government.
In other developments, on 20th September 2019, prison officials at Prison No. 16 subjected lawyer Nemat Karimli to excessive controls and verbal intimidation as he went in to meet with his client, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli. Karimli was threatened, thoroughly searched, including inside his socks and shoes, and asked to present his notes. His belongings were taken and his notes reviewed, despite protests from him that they did not have a search warrant. In 2017, Mukhtarli was abducted from Georgia, where he had been living in exile since 2014, and returned to Azerbaijan; he was sentenced to six years in prison in January 2018 on spurious charges. On 23rd April 2018, one day before an appeal hearing on Mukhtarli’s case, the Bar Association of Azerbaijan suspended Karimli’s attorney’s license for one year following a complaint by the first deputy prosecutor general of Azerbaijan.
Separately, in September 2019, the Human Rights Club published a detailed report by civil society organisations on the situation of political prisoners in the country. The report includes several chapters dedicated to different categories of political prisoners. These include civic activists, human rights defenders, representatives of religious currents, and leaders or representatives of opposition parties. The report also includes recommendations for those actors interested in the situation of Azerbaijani civil society.
Several incidents of police officers using force or violence against journalists were documented in September 2019.
On 11th September, Tezehan Miralamli, a journalist with the opposition newspaper Azadliq, fell to the ground and was injured as police officers pushed a group of journalists away from the courthouse while covering a case against opposition activist and member of the Popular Front, Ruslan Amirli.
Azadliq condemned the forceful removal of journalists from the scene, and called for a fair investigation into the actions of the police.
On 23rd September, Voice of America’s Azerbaijan correspondent Tapdig Farhadoglu was detained outside the Grave Crimes Investigation Unit building while filming protesters outside the building. The police abruptly stopped him, confiscated his camera and microphone, and took him to the police station where his phone was also confiscated. He was released half an hour later, after receiving a warning not to engage in such activities again.
On 30th September, IndexCenzorship reported that freelance journalist Nurlan Gahramanli was attacked by the police and State Oil Company (SOCAR) security staff while filming a group of Karabakh war veterans being beaten by the security staff. Gahramanli was beaten and sustained an injury to his face before being taken to the police station where he was questioned. He was released later the same day.