Dozens of people gathered in Baku's central Fountain Square over the weekend in protest against violence and threats toward government critics.
The demonstration on Saturday proceeded peacefully, and despite the heavy police presence, authorities did not prevent the action from taking place. Twenty-six of the protest’s organisers were detained before the event was scheduled to begin, before being released in different parts of the city, including on the outskirts, later that evening.
Protesters chanted ‘Don't kill justice, stop crime!’, ‘We don't want a mafia state!’, and ‘Reject the dictatorship!’ among other slogans.
Police escorted them as they marched from Fountain Square to the Interior Ministry building, preventing them from spreading over a large area.
In a statement read out at the end of the march, protest organisers listed cases of violence against journalists and pro-democracy activists.
‘Tofig Yagublu was taken out of the police station and brutally beaten, journalist Avaz Hafizli was killed with special cruelty, Samir Ashurov and other migrants were tortured and arrested after being deportated to the country, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was abducted and humiliated.’
After the demonstration, Interior Ministry spokesperson Elshad Hajiyev said that the march had proceeded without incident and that no one was detaine.
Ulvi Hasanli, the editor-in-chief of the news site Abzas and one of the organisers of the protest, cited the recent attack on journalist Ayten Mammadova.
‘The knife stuck against Aytan Mammadova’s throat is the knife stuck at the throat of all journalism in Azerbaijan. It’s impossible to maintain independent media and free journalists under such threats and pressure’, Hasanli told OC Media.
‘Our demands are to unravel the mysterious crimes against journalists and activists and to put an end to such incidents by the state and law enforcement agencies. If these crimes continue, protests may resume and more serious action may be taken. Because the situation can not continue in this form.’
The US, UK and EU embassies in Azerbaijan all made statements supporting the right to freedom of assembly.
The statement from the British Embassy insisted that ‘all allegations of violence must be thoroughly investigated.’
‘The right to peaceful protest and an independent media are pillars of a free society. The protection of these rights is called into question by recent incidents, such as the disruption of a peaceful protest on 14 May, and the violence suffered by bloggers and journalists, such as Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Aytan Mammadova. All allegations of violence should be thoroughly investigated’, the statement said.
One Azerbaijani MP, Bahruz Maharramov, responded in parliament saying that ‘the attempts of the British Embassy in Azerbaijan to take on the mission of the “justice gendarme” are surprising and regrettable’, adding that the embassy should ‘pay attention to the numerous acts of violence committed by the British police in recent years’.