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Azerbaijani police strand Baku protesters around the country

17 February 2020
A police officer stands near a bus with protesters inside. Photo: Nurlan Gakhramanli

Dozens of people protesting the results of 9 February’s parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan including opposition leaders and candidates were detained on Sunday and left by police throughout the country.

Police detained protesters in Baku taking them by bus and leaving them up to 300 kilometres away.

The rally in front of the Central Election Committee (CEC) was announced by the opposition Real and Musavat parties, the D18 Movement, and two independent candidates. 

The Baku City Administration initially prohibited the protest before offering a spot in Lokbatan, on the outskirts of Baku. 

A post by an account pretending to belong to Ilgar Mammadov cancelling the protest.

On Sunday morning, a fake Facebook account purporting to belong to Real party leader Ilgar Mammadov announced that the protest had been cancelled.

Shortly before it was scheduled to start, police swept up eight prominent protesters outside their homes and offices. These included Mammadov, Musavat party leader Arif Hajili, D18 Movement leader Ruslan Izzetli, and Independent candidates Mehman Huseynov and Ulvi Hasanli.

Gunel Safarova, one of the organisers of the protest and an independent candidate, told Meydan TV that she was physically prevented from leaving her house by police officers. 

After reports of the detentions spread online, Interior Ministry spokesperson Ehsan Zahidov told Trend that information about the detentions of Mammadov, Hajili, and Izzetli were not true and that ‘no person was detained’. 

He said that ‘preventive measures’ taking people from the scene did not amount to a detention.

‘Free country tour’

Several hours before the protest, police officers surrounded the area near the Central Election Committee blocking the road. 

Police showed up with new helmets with black glass over their faces. Photo: Meydan TV.

Dozens of protesters gathered in front of the CEC chanting ‘Free elections’ and ‘Don’t raise your hand at citizen’. The candidates told journalists that they were protesting against electoral fraud and asking for the election results to be cancelled. 

The police soon dispersed the crowd detaining several people and placing them in buses.

 Footage of the dispersal from RFE/RL.

The removal of protesters in buses and their release on the outskirts of Baku has been a common tactic during previous protests. 

[Read more on OC Media: Police violently disperse Azerbaijan election protest

This time, police drove protesters far further with some being taken 200–300 kilometres from Baku to be left in different cities. 

Several reports by protesters spread on social media saying that ‘the government is giving free country tours’. 

While some detainees were released 60–80 kilometres from Baku — in deserted areas of Sangachal, Alat, Gobustan and on the Baku-Shamakhi motorway, others were brought further. 

Mehman Huseynov and Ulvi Hasanli were left in Hajigabul, 150 kilometres from Baku, Ruslan Izzetli was left in Yevlakh, 300 kilometres west of Baku, while Real party executive secretary Natig Jafarli along with a group of Real party activists were brought to Shamakhi, 120 kilometres west of Baku.

Meydan TV reported that Ilgar Mammadov was also released in Shamakhi. 

Real party members with party leader Ilgar Mammadov after being released in Shamakhi, a city 120 kilometres from Baku. Photo: Natig Jafarli.

Arif Hajili said he was released in Baku ‘after 4 hours riding in the car’. 

Mustafa Hajibayli, the head of press-service of Musavat party, released a list of ‘at least 74 people’ who were detained.

Natig Jafarli announced on Facebook on Monday that around 90 members of the Real party were detained, urging them all to address their office so they could take their cases to court. 

‘These organised “city tours” will cost the government dearly. All the cases will be filed with the European Court [of Human Rights]’, he said.

‘Less violence’ against the journalists

The Press Council stated that together with the Ministry of Internal Affairs they had created a monitoring group to monitor journalists’ coverage of the ‘unauthorised rally in front of the Central Election Commission’. 

They said that the monitoring group did not receive any complaints from journalists, adding that in general, journalists were able to carry out their work without any obstacles. 

‘Moreover […] the monitoring group observed that in many cases, media workers were more close to the tense situations between the protesters and the police. In such cases, there were difficulties to carry out the duties both for journalists and workers of law enforcement agencies.’ 

Journalist and social activist Nurlan Gahramanli told OC Media that during the protest there was ‘less violence’ against journalists than at previous protests. He added that journalist Fatima Movlamli was injured on her nose and head. 

Fatima Movlamli.

An Interior Ministry spokesperson told news agency APA that attempts to hold ‘an unsanctioned protest’ were stopped by police and participants were removed from the scene. 

‘This time, no serious offenses were observed and no person was injured or detained’, they said. 

Siyavush Novruzov, an MP and deputy executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, told Trend that ‘attempts to hold a protest are serving foreign forces’. 

‘Those who lost according to the results of the election, who could not gain peoples’ votes, of course, give different statements […] create a show. And the purpose of this show is to appear in the reports of some international organisations’, he said. 

Novruzov said that Azerbaijan held free, fair and democratic parliamentary elections, where ‘equal conditions were created for everyone’.

‘If someone cannot campaign, cannot gather three people around himself, cannot talk to the people, why does he go to [protest] in front of the CEC? CEC announced the official results. You should first investigate in the constituency you lost and the people would tell you that they did not elect you. Those who cannot come out to the people now come out in front of the CEC’, he said. 

Police detain a protester and remove him from the scene of Sunday's protest in front of the CEC. Photo: Turan.

Arif Hajili told Meydan TV that the opposition would discuss their next moves, adding that ‘new actions will definitely happen’.

The organisers of the protest made a statement on Sunday evening vowing to continue to protest with five demands: the cancellation of the election results, respect for human rights including freedom of speech and the immediate release of political prisoners, amendments and additions to the Election Code; urgent implementation of the European Court’s decisions on elections, and holding new parliamentary elections.

‘Undemocratic’ elections

Preliminary results in 9 February’s elections gave the ruling New Azerbaijan Party 72 of 125 seats.

On 10 February, opposition coalition the National Council of Democratic Forces stated that the elections were falsified and ‘do not reflect the will of the people’. Similar statements came from the Umid and Real Parties. 

The Musavat Party called for the cancellation of the results. 

AZVote2020
A man photographed stuffing a ballot during 9 February’s vote. Photo: Turan.

In a joint statement on 10 February, the observation missions from the OSCE and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called into question the results. 

‘The restrictive legislation and political environment prevented genuine competition in Azerbaijan’s early parliamentary elections’, the statement said. 

‘Although some prospective candidates were denied the right to stand, candidate registration was otherwise inclusive. Despite the large number of candidates, voters were not provided with a meaningful choice, due to a lack of real political discussion.’ 

The head of the PACE delegation, Frank Schwabe, said that ‘despite some appearance of progress in the preparation for the elections, the widespread violations of counting procedures raised serious concerns about the results of the voting in general’.

Artur Gerasymov, Special Coordinator for the OSCE observer mission said, ‘I regret very much that what could have been improvements did not lead to a competitive environment enabling truly democratic elections. Counting on election day was disappointing. I would have hoped for some real changes.’

The European Union also stated on 11 February that they ‘regret that long-standing recommendations by OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission still have to be addressed. The EU stands ready to assist in this process’.

AZVote2020
Political activist Zumrud Yaghmur posted photos online of soldiers voting in polling stations in the Binagadi (left) and Balajar (right) constituencies, which she said were close together. Photos: Zumrud Yaghmur.

Arif Hajili, the chair of the Musavat party, stated on 11 February that Musavat and Real parties, along with the D18 organisation and independent candidates had requested permission from the Baku city administration to hold a protest on 16 February. 

Ruslan Izzetli, the head of the D18 Movement, told OC Media that he was denied permission for the protest on Wednesday before being told they could hold a protest in Lokbatan, on the outskirts of Baku.

On 13 February, Azerbaijan’s Central Election Committee cancelled the results of four constituencies because of videos and images spread online of electoral violations in those districts.

[Read more: Azerbaijan cancels election results for ‘at least 4 constituencies’ due to electoral fraud]

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