Azerbaijani authorities close down opposition office ‘over coronavirus fears’

10 March 2020
The D18 Movement packing their offices after being evicted. Photo: Ruslan Izzetli.

Azerbaijan’s opposition D18 Movement have been expelled from their offices in Baku by police claiming they were attempting to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The expulsion on Sunday was broadcast in a live video by journalist Tezekhan Mirelemli from newspaper Azadlig. In it, two police officers and a man in civilian clothes intervene in the filming forcing Mirelemli to leave the office.

Officers told members of the D18 Movement they could not ‘gather en masse’ because of fears of the spread of the coronavirus. There were four members in the office at the time.

The movement’s leader, Ruslan Izzetli, along with three other members, then left the office saying that they did not want to ‘provoke a fight’.

Izzetli told OC Media that the police had told them not to return until 10 March.

On Tuesday, after gathering at the office, the group were informed they were being evicted by the owner of the office, Izzetli said.

After their expulsion on Sunday, Izzetli had said they expected this to happen.

‘Our landlord did not tell us anything. He said that he is ok with us renting the space’, he said on Sunday. ‘He will be pressured, and we will be deprived of the office’.

He added that the movement was deprived of their previous office in a similar way.

‘The [previous] landlord was pressured. He even said that if we were not evicted they would blow up the building as they blew up the headquarters of the Popular Front Party.’

Ruslan Izzetli, the leader of opposition D18 Movement, talks to journalists after being expelled from their office. Still via RFE/RL.

In 2014, there was an explosion in the headquarters of the Popular Front Party in Baku. The party’s leadership said the explosion might be an attempt to pressure the party over their political activities. 

Izzetli, who ran as an independent candidate in 9 February’s parliamentary elections, noted that such pressure from the government may be explained by movement’s increased activity during and after the elections. 

[Read more on OC Media: Constitutional court approves final results of Azerbaijani elections

In the video of the eviction, Izzetli says they had noticed they were under surveillance by people in civilian clothes for the past two days, adding he had been informed this had lasted at least 10 days.

He later told journalists that police officers did not provide them with any documents justifying their expulsion. When asked for such documentation, officers then said they had to leave because of complaints from neighbours, he said. 

Lawyer Emin Abbasov told OC Media that the inviolability of private property was guaranteed by Azerbaijani law.

He said that the police may enter a property without a court order and contrary to the will of the occupants only if they had reasonable suspicion that the commission of a crime was taking place, the concealment of an offender, or a real threat to the life or health of a person.

According to him, there are no legal mechanisms for the authorities to do so in order to combat the spread of diseases.

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