Press release

Azerbaijan: Authorities Detain Peaceful Activists on International Women’s Day

The regime has repeatedly suppressed calls to address the widespread abuse of women’s rights.

In response to the detention of at least 20 peaceful protesters during a march on International Women’s Day in Baku, Freedom House issued the following statement: 

“For the third year in a row, the Azerbaijani authorities have cracked down on the International Women’s Day march, rejecting organizers’ permit application, detaining activists, and shutting down public transportation in a brazen violation of the freedom of assembly,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “The voices of women must be heard in Azerbaijan, where domestic violence, femicides, and other grave forms of gender-based violence are commonplace, and where female activists and journalists are harassed and ignored, with no effective national policy response from the government.”


On March 8, Azerbaijani law enforcement officers forcibly disrupted an International Women’s Day march in Baku that was organized by peaceful women’s rights activists to protest gender-based violence, including femicides, and to call on the government to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. Organizers’ application for a permit was rejected by the authorities on March 4. Before the event began, police raided a café and detained two activists involved with the women’s rights group that organized the march. Officers ultimately detained at least 20 demonstrators, with a report of police violence against at least one participant. The authorities also shut down Baku’s public transportation, citing coronavirus restrictions, even though such shutdowns had not occurred during any previous holiday during the pandemic.

The police had also interfered with the International Women’s Day gathering in previous years. In 2020, for example, officers violently detained dozens of people and then dropped them in remote areas outside Baku.

The latest crackdown occurred amid a surge in reporting on suicides by women, notably the case of Sevil Atakishiyeva, which sparked a social media campaign blaming feminism for her death. Commenters on the television network ATV directly blamed an Azerbaijani feminist activist, Gulnara Mehdiyeva, for Atakishiyeva’s death. Furthermore, recordings of private conversations between Mehdiyeva and a friend were leaked on social media to smear the activist. The hacking of Mehdiyeva’s online accounts was allegedly traced to a state-sponsored individual who had previously leaked compromising information about human rights defenders and independent journalists.

Azerbaijan is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020, and is categorized as a Consolidated Authoritarian Regime in Nations in Transit 2020.