Six opposition activists have been arrested in Azerbaijan a day after President Ilham Aliyev announced the need to resolve the issue of the ‘fifth column’ — referring to the opposition. who he called ‘worse than Armenians’.
Farid Asadov and Elvin Mammadov, both members of the Popular Front Party, were arrested on Thursday after participating in a 14 July rally in support of the Azerbaijani army.
[Read on OC Media: Thousands of pro-war protesters rally in Azerbaijan]
Tuesday’s protest saw tens of thousands gathering outside parliament following days of clashes on the Armenian border. Before the protest was dispersed, a group of protesters briefly occupied the parliament building.
According to Seymour Hazi, deputy chair of the Popular Front Party, Asadov and Mammadov were not among the protesters to enter parliament that night.
Later on Thursday, four more party activists were also detained.
The Popular Front Party also claimed that two other members were detained and placed under administrative arrest shortly before Tuesday’s protest. One for participating in online discussions about the ‘fighting in Tovuz’, and the other for attending a mass public funeral.
‘We need to resolve the issue of the fifth column’
In a speech on 15 July, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev generally praised the 14 July rally, calling it ‘another picture showing the unity of the people and power’.
He also took the opportunity to condemn ‘provocative groups’, which he accused of committing ‘hooliganism’ and who he claimed tried to ‘disrupt public order’. Harking back to a speech he had delivered earlier in the year, he referred to the opposition as a treacherous ‘fifth column’.
The president alleged that he had received information during the rally that members of the Popular Front Party ‘infiltrated the masses and tried to induce people to illegal actions’.
Calling the supposed infiltrators ‘worse than Armenians’, he accused the Popular Front Party of collaborating with the Armenian government in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
‘We need to resolve the issue of the fifth column’, Aliyev said. ‘This cannot continue.’
The National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of Azerbaijani opposition groups which includes the Popular Front Party, condemned Aliyev’s speech, calling it the beginning of a ‘new and more ruthless repression against the opposition’.
They stated that neither they nor the Popular Front Party organised the 14 July rally nor officially participated in it.
‘It was a protest of people who demonstrated their determination and will to liberate their lands’, their statement reads. They also defended Popular Front chair Ali Karimli, stating that he had an ‘honest and patriotic position’ and that ‘he stood with the state and the army in these difficult times’.
The attacks on Karimli and the party, they stated, was a manifestation of ‘the regime’s helplessness and psychological tension amid growing social discontent, public anger and international distrust’.