Azerbaijan must stop violent crackdowns on peaceful protests

Amnesty International urged the Azerbaijan authorities to respect the right to freedom of assembly after dozens of opposition supporters were detained on Monday while on their way to a demonstration. Around 80 people were rounded up by police in the capital Baku while travelling to a rally to demand the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, according to local media reports. They were seized en route by police officers, who pushed them into minibuses and police cars and drove them away. Forty were driven to the outskirts of the city and released immediately and another 30 were taken to a police station and released after five hours. Ten people were charged with resisting police and violating public order and released in the late evening by the Sabail District Court in Baku.Five detainees were fined 20 Manats (about 25 US$) while another five were given a warning.Police said that the group of protesters, which included several journalists, were arrested because the gathering was not officially sanctioned. However, requests to hold the rally had previously been ignored by city authorities.”This crackdown on peaceful protesters is just the latest example of the Azerbaijani authorities’ attempts to silence dissent,” said Halya Gowan, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme. “Those arrested are being denied their rights to freedom of assembly and expression, which is exactly the rights that they were protesting for.”The rally was organized by the opposition group Azadliq (Liberty) which includes the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, the Liberal Party, and the Civil and Development Party. The group were planning to gather outside the Mayor’s Office to demand that the authorities respect freedom of assembly.The group had previously asked the authorities to allow a protest on Sunday in front of the Baku City Hall but received no answer.Police broke up a similar protest two weeks ago at the same location organized by the opposition Musavat party arresting 47 people, who were released after several hours. The Baku authorities have refused to allow public protests in the city centre for three years, despite the Azerbaijani Constitution guaranteeing freedom of assembly. Demonstrations are currently only permitted in the outskirts of the city.According to the reports and eyewitness accounts, journalists were also subjected to violence by the police and prevented from filming and interviewing the demonstrators.Seven journalists were reportedly detained: Natig Gulehmedoglu  Elchin Hasanov, Parviz Jabrayil, Efqan Mukhtarli, Seymur Haziyev, Parviz Hashimli and Mehman Huseynov.Two journalists, Mehman Huseynov from the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety and Afgan Mukhtarli from Yeni Musavat newspaper, reportedly had their cameras broken. Mehman Huseynov also alleged that he received a leg injury during the dispersal.Amnesty International called on the Government of Azerbaijan to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in line with their international obligations.