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A rare mass protest in Azerbaijan: Injured Protesters and a Sacked Governor
Freedom House urges Azerbaijani authorities to facilitate peaceful demonstrations and respect citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and association following protests on March 1 in Quba, Azerbaijan, during which seven journalists were injured and more than 50 people arrested. Azerbaijanis were protesting outside the home of provincial governor Rauf Habibov, calling for his resignation after he made a public statement calling local residents ‘traitors’ and accusing them of selling inexpensive land to citizens in other regions. The national government responded to protests by forcing the governor to resign. During demonstrations, two assailants attacked journalist Rashid Aliyev from Objektiv-TV, and journalist Idrak Abbasov, with the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom, injured his arm. Five other journalists were hurt when hit with tear gas.
Azerbaijan is not an electoral democracy, and the freedom of expression situation remains dire. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and press, in practice authorities severely limit both. Authorities continue to imprison journalists and bloggers who express dissenting opinions. In June 2011, an American journalist and British activist were attacked. In August 2011, six Azerbaijani opposition activists were sentenced to up to three years in prison on trumped up charges for “interfering with parliamentary elections.” In February 2012, a correspondent for an Iranian media outlet was imprisoned for two months and is awaiting trial over fabricated charges likely related to his broadcasts.