Press release October 21, 2019
Azerbaijan: Government Must Respect Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The use of excessive force against peaceful protests in Azerbaijan must end.
In response to police crackdowns on peaceful rallies in Baku, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The brutal use of force on peaceful protesters over the weekend in Azerbaijan exemplifies the government’s unwillingness to tolerate any dissent and failure to uphold the freedoms of speech and assembly,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “The violence used against citizens practicing their right to peaceful assembly is in clear violation of Azerbaijan’s domestic laws and international commitments. The brutality experienced by opposition activists Ali Karimli, whose violent detention was videoed by local press, and Tofiq Yaqublu, who was allegedly tortured while in police custody, demonstrate the government’s brazen rejection of its obligations to protect and defend its citizens’ basic rights. We call on the authorities of Azerbaijan to uphold freedom of assembly, release the remaining detained protesters, and hold law enforcement officials accountable for any use of excessive force.”
On October 19, hundreds of protesters were reportedly detained for participating in an unsanctioned opposition rally in the center of Baku, which was organized by the National Council of Democratic Forces. The city authorities denied their request to hold an event in central Baku, but permitted a location outside the city center. The opposition coalition then decided to hold the rally in central Baku without official authorization. In preparation for the rally, police cordoned off the area and allegedly shut down internet access. The subway stations near the site were also closed down, preventing people from joining the peaceful demonstration.
The police met the protesters with violence. The head of the Popular Front Party, Ali Karimli, was violently detained by police in riot gear as he attempted to join the protesters. Tofiq Yaqublu, a member of the Musavat party, was allegedly tortured in custody after he was detained at the protest. Some opposition figures were preemptively detained, such as journalist Seymour Hazi, who was sentenced to 10 days in jail ahead of the rally. Giyas Ibrahimov, a former political prisoner, reported that his mother was detained for nine hours before the rally.
Separately, a peaceful protest for women’s rights held in central Baku on October 20 was also aggressively dispersed by authorities.