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Azerbaijani activists and journalist detained over mine protests  

23 June 2023
Clockwise from top left: Giyas Ibrahimov (Photo: Voice of America), Elmaddin Shamilzade (still from live broadcast), Elmir Abbasov (Photo: Facebook), Nargis Absalamova (left) and Nigar Mubariz (courtesy image)

One journalist has been detained, and three others forcibly removed from the village of Soyudlu in west Azerbaijan after covering the protests there. Two social activists were also detained after they made critical social media posts about the police response to the protests. 

Journalist Elmaddin Shamilzadeh was detained by police on Friday in Baku, while speaking to OC Media. On Tuesday and Wednesday, he published footage of local residents being violently dispersed by police in Soyudlu, after which he was summoned to a military conscription unit in Lankaran District.

[Read more: Azerbaijani police lock down village after environmental protests

Prior to his detention, Shamilzadeh told OC Media that he was told on 22 June to submit documents supporting his military deferral, which he is entitled to as he is studying for a PhD. 

‘I submitted the documents to the commissariat in June 2021, and it is absurd that they are asking me for them now’, he said. 

At the time, he added that he believed he could be forced into military service despite his formal exemption. 

‘This is a method of punishment, because as a journalist, I shot videos in Soyudlu’, he said. 

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After his detention, Shamilzadeh’s wife, Sahar Cahan, wrote that an Interior Ministry spokesperson refused to tell her where he was being held. In response to questions regarding what charges were being pressed against him, the spokesperson reportedly stated that ‘he is not accused of anything yet’. 

Other journalists reported being forcibly removed from the village earlier that week. 

Elsever Muradzade, also an independent journalist, stated on Thursday that he and two other journalists, Nargiz Absalamova and Nigar Mubariz, were prevented from entering the village that day. 

Roads to the village have been blocked to all but residents since early on Wednesday morning, after residents gathered to protest pollution of the area by a mining company and were violently dispersed by police. 

‘We entered the village by alternative means. A little while ago, we were forcefully removed from Gadabay by the police’, wrote Muradzade. ‘Nargiz and Nigar’s phones were taken away, and they were subjected to physical violence. The police chief said that only authorised media can stay in the village.’

Absalamova, a journalist with independent Azerbaijani outlet Abzas, corroborated Muradzade’s account, stating that her phone was confiscated, and that she was treated roughly by police. 

‘I don’t understand how it is that a journalist of [pro-government] Real TV is considered a journalist and let in, but as a journalist who shares everything people say as it is, and publicises their problems, I am not let in? Why is my freedom of movement restricted? Why should my arm be squeezed [until it hurt]? Why should I be pushed?’, wrote Absalamova. 

Eshgin Gasimov, a regional representative of the Interior Ministry, denied these claims to independent Azerbaijani media outlet Turan.

‘There was neither detention nor beating. It is nonsense information,’ said Gasimov.

Prison time for social media posts

Activists who made posts online about the protests were also targeted by the authorities.

Giyas Ibrahim and Elmir Abbasov were on Thursday sentenced to 30 and 20 days in prison respectively, after publishing social media posts criticising the authorities’ handling of the protests in Soyudlu. 

Ibrahim received his 30-day sentence for posting information ‘prohibited for distribution in online information resources’ and intentionally disobeying police orders. 

His Thursday post criticised President Aliyev, and expressed support for the protesters in Soyudlu. 

‘Let’s either stand up and go to Gadabay [district] all together or get out to the street whatever shit will happen. Enough is enough’, wrote Ibrahim. 

Less than an hour after the post was published, Ibrahimov wrote on Twitter that police had come to his house and demanded that he delete his Facebook post, which Ibrahimov refused to do. 

Ibrahim’s mother, Shura Amiraslanova, wrote around an hour later that the activist had been taken to a police station, and then to the Nizami District Court, where he received his prison sentence. 

Ibrahim began a hunger strike on Friday in protest against his arrest, the police violence, and the inhumane treatment he said he experienced in the detention centre in Baku. 

Elmir Abbasov, a member of the board of directors of the Nida Civic Movement, was similarly sentenced to 20 days of imprisonment on administrative charges. His lawyer, Zibeyda Sadigova, told OC Media that he was charged with petty hooliganism and disobeying the police. 

During his trial, Abbasov denied the allegations and noted that he was treated roughly by police when detained on Wednesday evening in a yard near his home. 

Both Abbasov and the Nida Movement claim that the reason for his arrest was a Facebook post in which he criticised the police for their actions in Gadabay, stating that in Azerbaijan, the word ‘police’ was synonymous with ‘an immoral person’. 

The Nida Movement added that they considered his arrest to be a ‘political order’, and demanded his immediate release. 

Read in Georgian on On.ge.