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Azerbaijani feminist local councillor ‘publicly shamed’ after reporting on corruption

19 June 2020
Personal photos of municipality member Vafa Naghi hung in the village of Khol Garagashli, with the caption ‘Lady Gaga’. Photo: Vafa Naghi.

A feminist activist elected in Azerbaijan’s recent municipal elections has claimed that the chair of her municipality ordered her private photos be hung throughout the village in an attempt to discredit her.

Vafa Naghi was elected in December to the municipality — the local self-government body — of Khol Garagashli in southern Azerbaijan’s Neftchala District.

On Friday, Naghi protested in front of the Interior Ministry in Baku against what she said was the impunity of the ‘corrupt’ chair of her municipality, Alibala Salimov. She was soon detained by police before later being released. 

‘My [protest’s] goal was to highlight the rights of the villagers that are being violated; to make sure that the lawlessness against me is punished’, Naghi told OC Media

Naghi was the only one of several prominent activists who ran on anti-corruption platforms to be elected during December’s elections. 

[Read more on OC Media: Municipal elections in Azerbaijan marred by violations]

After taking up her position, Naghi has been vocal in highlighting issues affecting her constituents and has repeatedly accused the municipality chair, Alibala Salimov, of corruption.

According to her, this has resulted in a campaign against her and her family from the local authorities.

On 10 June, she reported that her brother had been fined ₼100 ($60) by the local police for no reason. She said he had also been summoned to court and that the police wanted to have him placed under administrative arrest.

[Read more about Vafa Naghi on OC Media: Voice | ‘I did all these things so that the women would not lose hope’]

Public shaming 

In a live video on Facebook on Tuesday, Naghi showed one of the posters with her private pictures alongside her election poster. 

One of the photos shows Naghi in a swimming costume on the beach, on another, she said she was holding a beer but that this had been cropped out. 

All of the pictures also included the description: ‘Lady Gaga’. 

According to her, the pictures were hung throughout the village including in front of shops, at the entrance of the village, and on bus stops, ‘where everyone can see them’. 

A photo of Naghi sitting on the beach in a swimming costume with the caption ‘Lady Gaga’. Photo: Vafa Naghi.

Naghi told OC Media that Salimov had warned her during the previous municipality meeting, on 16 June, to cease her political activities. 

‘He threatened me twice’, Naghi said. ‘He said: “if you don’t stop writing your posts, I will talk to you in a different way. Try not to lose your respect”. This was kind of a warning’. 

‘He thought that by hanging my pictures in the village, he would make me immoral, and make me afraid and step back — but why should I step back?’, she said.  

Naghi told Mikroskop Media on Wednesday that after complaining to the Interior Ministry hotline, the police asked her to write an official complaint. 

Ehsan Zahidov, the chief spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, told Mikroskop Media that the police had ‘reacted’. 

‘If a complaint is received, then an investigation is underway’, he added. 

A ‘corrupt’ land scheme

Naghi’s criticism of Salimov has met with some support from local residents. On 15–16 April, a small group of people gathered in Khol Garagashli to protest against Salimov’s alleged corruption. 

They accused him of handing over lands belonging to the state development fund to his son. 

Naghi has accused Salimov of setting up a company in his son’s name which has received 80 hectares of land allocated to the village from the fund. According to her, despite dozens of complaints from local residents to various state institutions, the situation has remained unchanged. 

Salimov has denied the allegations. He told the Voice of America that he rented out 9 hectares of land from the fund to his son. 

‘He has a document, it was in accordance with the rules. I gave him 9 hectares of land, not 80 hectares. There is no violation of the law here’, he said. 

According to him, other local residents have received between 15-25 hectares of land for rent from the fund. 

‘They write that Alibala Salimov sold 700 hectares of land, gave 300 hectares to his nephew, and 300 hectares to another nephew. We have only 352 hectares of municipal land. They [officials] come to investigate, they see that all this is slander, lies, blackmail’.

Salimov also dismissed the protests, saying that: ‘7-8 Vafa-like people held a protest once’. 

‘If it can be called a protest; 3,750 people live in the municipality. The protesters don’t make even 0.01% of the population’, he added. 

Naghi reported on Friday that shortly after her protest in Baku, two members of the Neftchala District Executive Power arrived in the village and asked Salimov to give an account of the situation to local residents. 

According to her, one local resident accused Salimov of charging ₼80 ($47) for land but documenting only ₼20, pocketing the rest for himself. In response, Salimov punched the man in the jaw, she said.

‘Everything was messed up, and the officials were shocked. The police could not intervene and left saying only “submit a complaint”,’ she wrote.

According to Naghi, the officials claimed to have opened an investigation into 180 hectares of land that Salimov allegedly sold.

‘I hope this was not done on orders [from above] or to silence the commotion, but to really do something!’, she added.

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