Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has called for the Council of Europe to stand up for the right to protest peacefully in Azerbaijan, after dozens of nonviolent demonstrators were detained and later charged in Baku on January 26.
The protests came just days after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) failed to pass a resolution on political prisoners in Strasbourg. Some delegates at the meeting voiced doubts about the resolution’s usefulness, citing persistent ambiguities surrounding the definition of a political prisoner.
In Baku on January 26, hundreds of people gathered in a central square to express solidarity with recent protests in the central town of Ismayilli. Riot police moved in, detaining about 80 participants, including prominent blogger Emin Milli, human rights defender Malahat Nasibova, and investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.
According to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, three of those were later given jail time. Activists Abulfaz Qurbanli and Turkel Azeturk were sentenced to 13 days, while Milli was given 15 days. Milli previously spent 17 months in prison after making and posting a satirical video critical of the government.
In addition, 18 protesters were given fines ranging from 300 to 2,500 manats ($382 to $3,185). Gozel Bayramli, deputy head of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, was fined 2,000 manats and youth activist Turgut Qambar, who is the son of opposition Musavat Party head Isa Qambar, was fined 2,500 manats. Ismayilova was fined 400 manats.
«Just days after PACE rejected a resolution on politically motivated arrests, the prosecution of these 30 individuals demonstrates how far the issue is from being resolved,» said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia.
«The PACE co-rapporteurs responsible for monitoring Azerbaijan’s obligations to the council, Pedro Agramunt and Joseph Debono Grech, opposed the resolution on political prisoners proposed by German MP Christoph Strasser, stating they would address the problem of political prisoners themselves,» Dalhuisen continued.
«Having taken on this responsibility, they must now intervene to ensure the sentences of those imprisoned or fined for taking part in Saturday’s protest are overturned.»
Ismayilova, a journalist with RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, described her trial as a «comedy.»
She told Amnesty: «I entered the room where two men were sitting on the defense’s place. I asked who they are and the judge said they were my lawyers. I said: ‘I don’t know these people, I don’t trust them and I refuse. I want my own lawyers.’ I didn’t know that in fact my lawyers were outside of the building and were not allowed in. The judge said I can’t have my own lawyers as they are not here.»
— Dan Wisniewski