Approximately fifty activists are thought to have been arrested and detained following an anti-corruption protest organised in Fountain Square in down town Baku on Saturday 20, October.
The protest, which was organised by opposition political parties and youth groups, began at 15:00 on Saturday and lasted for two hours, according to a post on the “Azerbaijan Agenda” Facebook. The demonstrators were calling for the dissolution of parliament following the release of a video at the end of September showing a member of the Azerbaijani Parliament demanding a $1.3 million bribe from a former university rector in exchange for a seat in parliament.
The opposition had filed an application for the rally shortly after the video was made public, however, as reported in CEW last week, Ali Ahmadov, the Deputy Chairman and Executive Secretary of the governing New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), confirmed the request for the protest event were not approved by the Mayor´s offıce, however the organisers went ahead with the protest regardless. Razi Nuruyallev, Deputy Chairperson for Foreign Affairs with the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, wrote on the Facebook page for Azerbaijan Agenda that even though the municipal authorities of Baku refused to approve the plans for the rally, recommending the organisers change the location to somewhere outside of the city centre, “the event organisers decided that the Baku mayoralty decision was illegal and will protest in the [city] centre.” Nuruyallev explained that the rally, which was supported by opposition parties and the Public Chamber, a pro-democracy coalition of political parties, had been planned already two weeks before and that thousands had been informed via social networking sites and invited to participate.
From the beginning police intervention was anticipated, according to Nuruyallev’s post – likely a result of the warning police issued to protesters that they would immediately break up any rally-related activities. Protesters were being targeted already by 14:00, an hour before the rally was set to begin, according to reports from Azadliq.info, an opposition media outlet in Azerbaijan. It appears that these initial arrests were primarily of members of the youth wings of the opposition Musavat and Popular Front Party.
Isa Gambar, the leader of the Musavat Party, said that several members of his party were also arrested on Saturday upon leaving a meeting at the party headquarters in the capital. These members, notes Gambar, were completely unconnected to the protest. His son, Turgut Gambar, was amongst the youth leaders arrested in Fountain Square. “We consider the refusal to let the youth action go ahead as a gross violation of the law by the authorities,” said Gambar, emphasising the authorities immediate reaction was to use “repressive methods.” Police waited a mere ten minutes before they began to break-up the demonstration and arrest participants.
A video of the protest posted on rferl.org, shows activists being arrested and detained by both plain clothes and uniformed police officers. At one point a woman is heard screaming and seen to be crying, in what appears to be a result of the use of pepper spray by police against the young activist. Police had at least two vans and a public bus ready to take the protesters to detention. At one point in the video, police officers dressed in riot gear are seen to form a human chain in an attempt to encircle the remaining rally goers. About 200 activists, both young and old, demonstrated in the centre, according to Trend.az. Many were carrying banners demanding the immediate dissolution of the parliament on the heels of the video evidence of seat-buying, a trend, many opposition activists assert, is pervasive in the Milli Majliss, the Parliament of Azerbaijan. Police have not released any information as to the number of arrests made Saturday afternoon; however, estimates by opposition parties and youth groups place the number as high as fifty.
The protests had been suffocated by 17:00. According to the most recent post by Nuruyallev, opposition activists had been sentenced to between 7 and 10 days in prison. Furthermore, several opposition politicians received fines between 10 and 25 USD for their participation in Saturday’s activities. The rally was the first public demonstration attempted by opposition forces since the protests organised in the wake of the Eurovision song contest in May, which were also broken up by the authorities.
Report prepared for CEW by Karina Gould.