Europe of Human Rights

On 20 October 2012, police detained around 100 activists in Azerbaijan, to hinder a protest planned by youth movements and political parties. Protesters were also detained in the regions to prevent them from travelling to the protest in Baku.

The protesters had gathered at Fountain Square in central Baku to call for the dissolution of parliament, following the release of video footage showing that senior ministers and MPs in government had been involved in selling parliamentary seats.

Video footage taken at the scene shows the police using excessive force to dispel the crowd, and, even more alarming, also against women. Although the Baku city authorities did not authorize the rally the police should not have used any force to disperse the peaceful protesters.

Following the breakup of the protests 14 opposition activists were arrested and sentenced to administrative (misdemeanor) imprisonment terms, ranging from 7 to 10 days, for failing to obey police orders. Reports have revealed that among those arrested included former prisoners of conscience, Tural Abbasli, Rufat Hajibayli and Ahad Mammadli, who were previously sentenced from one and a half to two and a half years of imprisonment for taking part in protests on 2 April 2011, but later released by presidential pardon on 22 June 2012 following sustained international pressure in the run up to the Eurovision Song Contest which was hosted by Azerbaijan in May 2012. Several politicians were also fined by the court, starting from 10 to 25 USD, including members of the Musavat party. This event should be linked with the upcoming Presidential elections scheduled for October 2013 and the procedure of candidate selection.

Moreover, recently amendments of the Law on Freedom of Assembly, of the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Violations were proposed by MP Rafael Jabrayilov, who sent the draft to Parliament on 16th of October. On 23 October the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Policy and State Building discussed the draft and forwarded it to the plenary session of Parliament for discussions and voting. According to these amendments the fines for organizers and participants of illegal demonstrations will increase, which is worryingly similar to the recent amendments to the legislation in the Russian Federation. Currently the fines are from 7 to 13 Manats (approx. 7-13 EUR) for participation in an illegal demonstration. The proposed law would increase the fines from 500 to 1000. If the organizer is an ordinary citizen the fine will be from 1500 to 3000 Manats, and from 3000 to 6000 Manats if the organizer is an official. If the organizer is a legal entity (e.g. political party, NGO) then the fine will be from 15000 to 30000 Manats. These amendments prove again that the government is interested in restricting freedom of assembly in the eve of the 2013 Presidential elections.

It looks like the Government of Azerbaijan is copying the solutions already tested by the Russian authorities, before and after the Presidential elections held on 4 March this year. At the end of November the EU-Azerbaijan Human Rights Dialogue will be held in Baku, despite the reluctance to cooperate from the part of local authorities, these recent developments .

Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, “Europe of Human Rights”

This post is based on a statement prepared by the Civic Solidarity Platform.


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