Azerbaijan urged to stop targeting peaceful protesters
Amnesty International has urged the Azerbaijani authorities to halt the targeting of peaceful protesters ahead of an opposition rally planned for 17 April.The Azerbaijani government said on Friday that the weekend protests, the latest in a series calling for political reform and an end to government corruption, would not be tolerated.Five opposition activists were charged earlier this week with “organising mass disorder” over their involvement in protests earlier this month which were violently dispersed by police. All are now facing long prison terms.Activists have been beaten by police and imprisoned after closed hearings on the basis of no or very little evidence, local human rights groups say.“The Azerbaijani authorities must allow this protest to go ahead. Peaceful demonstrations are the very essence of the freedoms of expression and assembly. These rights, and those seeking to exercise them, are being trampled on in Azerbaijan,” said John Dalhuisen, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme.“They must end their harassment of peaceful opposition activists carrying out their lawful activities,” he added.“The international community must do more to put pressure on the government to end this crackdown,” said John Dalhuisen.Speaking on Friday, Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General Zakir Garalov said: “The radical opposition apparently wants to bring experience of other countries to Azerbaijan.“But our government will never tolerate this and all its actions will be suppressed,” he said.The new charges bring the total number of activists facing long prison terms for their involvement in the 2 April protests to ten, seven of whom Amnesty considers to be prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for attempting to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression. The prisoners of conscience are Babek Hasanov, Mahammad Majidli and Sahib Karimov of the Popular Front Party (PFP), independent activist Ulvi Guljyev, Elshan Hasanov and Arif Hajili of the Musavat party and Tural Abbasli, head of Musavat’s Youth Organisation. Amnesty International is still examining the cases of Shahin Hasanli and Ahad Mammadli, who have also been detained in connection with the recent protests.The leaders of two major opposition parties, Musavat Party and the PFP, have vowed to continue the protest on 17 April.Ali Karimli, leader of Popular front party, told Amnesty International that the authorities had refused to meet opposition leaders to discuss Sunday’s demonstration, and reiterated its peaceful nature."We have always opposed violence” he said.“We want to achieve change by peaceful means. We are calling on the international community, the Council of Europe of which Azerbaijan is a member, to exert pressure on the authorities to stop the repression”.