Mysterious explosions and discretionary arrests: A day in the life of Azerbaijan’s opposition

When the phone of Natig Adilov, rang at 4:35am on Monday, he immediately knew it would be bad news.

As the spokesperson for the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) lifted the receiver to his ear, he heard the frightened voices of two of his colleagues. They told him they had heard an explosion at the party’s headquarters in the country’s capital, Baku.

By the time Natig reached the building later that morning, it was a scene of devastation.

“The windows on the right hand side of the building were completely blackened from smoke which was still rising in dark billows from the basement. I saw a rusty and punctured gas tank lying on the floor,” he told Amnesty International.

Firefighters said the explosion and subsequent fire had been caused by a faulty propane gas tank in a barbershop located on the building’s basement. According to the Barber, the shop is not supplied with any gas, and there were no gas tanks on the premises.

Every trick in the book

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, say authorities in Azerbaijan have been using every trick in the book to stop members of the opposition, social activists and journalists from criticizing them.

Natig believes Monday’s explosion was no coincidence.

“I was not shocked. As soon as I received the call, I knew what was happening. From its inception, our party has always come under attack and we are always prepared for this kind of event,” he said.

The building’s owner, who lives in Turkey, also reported receiving threats against his family and property from an official. He secretly recorded the conversation, gave it to the media the day after the explosion and shared it online. The owner stated that despite owning the property for years, threats only began when he first rented the property to another opposition party in 2012, but these became far more serious after the APFP moved in on 12 October 2013.

The explosion in the APFP headquarters is the latest in a string of incidents hampering its work.

“Our members are harassed daily. Some have lost their jobs, some have lost their businesses and others have been arrested. I have been a member of the party since 1996 and I do not remember a single year in which we have not had members in jail. Our regional offices are forced to operate from the homes of our members and even then they are not left alone,” Natig explained.

In the last two weeks alone, six party activists have been arrested on charges of “resisting police orders”.

Amongst them is 18 year old Tofig Dadashov. He was arrested on 22 February when plainclothes police officers raided his home and seized his computer. Tofig was then taken to the Binagadi Police Department, where he says he was kept without food or water for two days. On 24 February, he was jailed for 10 days for “disobeying police orders”. His family believes he was arrested for calling for a demonstration against the Mayor of Baku on his Facebook page.

A few days later, on 27 February, the Chairman of the Jalilabad branch of the APFP, Tazakhan Miaralamli, was arrested as he left his home.

Allegedly, a police officer overheard Tazakhan talking on the phone, said he was “behaving suspiciously” and promptly detained him. He too was jailed for 15 days for “disobeying police orders”. Tazakhan was also planning a demonstration.

But the arrests and covert operations to undermine the party’s work has done nothing to deter support, which according to Natig, is rapidly expanding, particularly amongst young people.

“We continue despite all the problems we face because we feel that it is our duty to be at the forefront of the struggle for a peaceful transition of power to democratic forces. Our faith in our ideas is what keeps us motivated,” Natig said.