One month after the start of the Azerbaijani offensive, 20 arrested so far for speaking out against Nagorno-Karabakh war
On 19th September 2023, Azerbaijan began “anti-terrorist activities” in Nagorno-Karabakh, claiming to want to “restore constitutional order” and expel alleged Armenian troops. After intense fighting, local Armenian forces in the self-styled republic agreed to be disarmed and disbanded. As a result, a Russian-brokered ceasefire was declared on 20th September 2023, ending the fighting after 24 hours. On 21st September, the region’s separatist leader, Samvel Shakhramanyan, signed a decree saying the breakaway republic will cease to exist from January 2024.
The Azerbaijani offensive led to a humanitarian crisis, the full extent and impact of which are yet to be seen. According to Crisis Group, on the evening of 29th September, authorities in Yerevan reported that nearly 100,000 people – more than 80 per cent of the enclave’s population – had crossed into Armenia. The fighting has also reportedly caused civilian casualties, including deaths and injuries, and infrastructure such as homes, hospitals and schools has been largely destroyed, further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the region.
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, from December 2022, a four-month blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, by Azerbaijani “environmentalists” had disrupted the free flow of goods into the region, leaving the Armenian population without access to food, medicine and fuel. The environmentalists stopped their protest in April 2023 after an official Azerbaijani checkpoint was established on the corridor, but the flow of aid to the region remained disrupted, further fuelling tensions.
Freedom of association
Trade unionist arrested, reportedly tortured in detention
On 3rd August, Afiaddin Mammadov, a labour rights activist, was sentenced to 30 days in prison for “defying police orders.” He was allegedly tortured and denied access to a lawyer. Mammadov, the leader of the Workers' Table Trade Union Federation and a member of the Democracy 1918 movement, was arrested on 1st August and sentenced to administrative detention two days later. He began a hunger strike to protest the court decision. This is Mammadov's third arrest in less than a year for disobeying the police. The activist maintains his innocence and claims that the authorities are targeting him due to his labour activism. According to a colleague, while in detention, Mammadov was tortured and denied access to a lawyer. Per the same source, the activist was abducted by plainclothes police officers while on his way back from a demonstration organised by delivery couriers.
Freedom of peaceful assembly
Villagers’ protest violently disrupted
On 20th and 21st June 2023, residents of the village of Soyudlu in Gadabay, Azerbaijan, protested against the construction of a second wastewater reservoir by a gold mining company. Despite the peaceful nature of the demonstration, the police used excessive force and deployed pepper spray against the participants. On the first day of the protests, five people were arrested under Article 513.2 of the Code of Administrative Offences (violation of the rules for holding rallies, pickets and demonstrations), and one protester was fined 1,500 manat (EUR 800).
On 24th June, civil rights activist Giyas Ibrahim was detained for 30 days for criticising police conduct on social media. Several journalists covering the events were also arrested. The police also imposed entry and exit bans on the village for more than 10 days, further aggravating the tense atmosphere.
Both the Government and police authorities announced they would take steps to investigate the allegations that excessive force was used against the villagers.
Freedom of expression
Many arrested, prosecuted for criticising Nagorno-Karabakh offensive
On 21st September, two days after the start of the Azerbaijani offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, OC-Media reported that the authorities had arrested at least five people who publicly spoke out against the war. Three people were arrested on 20th and 21st September for posting “banned” content on social media. Two of them were immediately sentenced to 30 days’ administrative detention, while the third person had not yet appeared in court at the time of publication of the article. Another anti-war activist was sentenced to 30 days administrative detention for disobeying the police, while a fifth person, Afiaddin Mammadov, the president of the Workers' Table trade union federation, was reportedly charged with stabbing a man and faces up to five years in prison.
On 21st October, OC-Media reported that Azerbaijani activist Mohyeddin Orujov had been sentenced to 30 days’ administrative detention for criticising President Ilham Aliyev on social media. The activist’s brother also claimed that Orujov was harassed and beaten at the police station. The same source reported that, since the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh offensive, some 20 politicians and political and social activists have been arrested on similar charges to the ones mentioned above. Most of those arrested stated that they were detained for writing articles critical of the government and the presidency.