A total lockdown in four cities of Azerbaijan over the weekend has been marked by police violence and a public backlash at its implementation.
As videos of officers forcefully arresting those caught outside their homes were widely shared on social media, criticism of the police’s behaviour have mounted. Other videos shared depicted people breaking the lockdown and evading police.
One video shows residents of a residential building in Baku dropping rubbish on police officers below who are making an arrest.
Yasamalda camaat Polis zorakılığına qarşı balkondan zibilləri atır Polisə pic.twitter.com/BSEGhs59BR
— Mr. President (@HalduNovruzzade) June 7, 2020
The Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers, which is coordinating Azerbaijan’s response to COVID-19, announced a total lockdown of the cities of Baku, Ganja, Sumgayit, and Lenkoran as well as Absheron District over the weekend of 6–7 June.
During this time, shops and businesses were shuttered as people were forbidden from leaving their homes except to seek urgent medical attention.
On Tuesday, the Operational Headquarters announced that the restrictions would come into force again in these cities from 14–16 June.
After footage of the weekend’s events began to emerge, a social media campaign under the hashtag #poliszorakiliginason (‘end police violence’), was launched with many calling for the resignation of the interior minister and apologies from the police.
After one video showed police officers repeatedly punching a man as they detained him, Baku Police spokesperson Elshad Hajiyev defended the officers involved.
Hajiyev told news agency APA that the man was trying to resist police with a knife; he said they had charged him with hooliganism.
Footage via newspaper Azaldig.
The most significant incident of resistance to the police happened in the Yeni Yasamal District of Baku, where tenants of a residential building dropped bags of rubbish from the balconies and jeered at police officers as they forced a man into a car.
On Monday, riot police raided several flats from the building arresting several people.
The Interior Ministry stated on Monday that despite the behaviour of tenants, the police had exercised ‘restraint’.
However, the ministry has also said they will investigate videos showing police misconduct.
According to the ministry, 11 people received from 15 days to 2 months of administrative detention over the incident.
Ibrahimov was released the following day and fined with ₼50 ($30) for petty hooliganism.
Detainees ‘beaten in custody’
In footage of the raids on the residential building on Monday, one man is seen being taken away by police in his underwear.
Gular Suleymanova, a resident of the building, told Meydan TV that this was her son, Elvin Suleymanov, and that police officers broke into their house looking for him.
📍Polis D.Bünyadzadə küçəsində yaşayan sakinin evinə basqın edir pic.twitter.com/5j5AFzLvXW
— AzeriWatchdog (@WatchdogAze) June 8, 2020
‘The video was not posted in full. They twisted my arm so hard that it still hurts. They pushed my daughter-in-law. Elvin was asleep. Now they write on social networks that he was hiding. No, it is not true, he was asleep’, she said.
She said that her other son, Karim Suleymanov, asked police officers to allow Elvin to put on his clothes. ‘When my son brought his brother’s clothes, they also dragged him away.’
Suleymanova insisted that her son was not one of those throwing rubbish at the police, and that the police were breaking into flats at random.
During the raid, Suleymanova was also called a ‘pussy’ by one officer, who added that ‘your husband is also a pussy’.
Ehsan Zahidov, the chief spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, told Report.az that the officer in question had apologised for his words and was eventually fired.
In a video posted online by lawyer Javad Javadov on Tuesday, Karim Suleymanov, who was released that day, said that he was beaten while in custody for five hours and by 30 people.
Suleymanov said in the video that he witnessed the other 10 detainees being beaten as well.
Suleymanova told Meydan TV that Karim Suleymanov was released on the condition that she forgive the officers for mistreating her sons and insulting her, or that he would be taken back into custody.
‘My son is in such a state that it is impossible to forgive them’, she said, adding that Suleymanov intended to go back into custody.
Elshad Hajiyev, the chief spokesperson for the Baku Police Department, denied that Suleymanov was beaten in custody claiming he sustained the bruises while resisting the police.
Javadov said that Suleymanov was not medically examined while in custody, was not presented with the evidence against him, and that no investigation was started.
According to him, on Wednesday Suleymanov underwent a medical examination in a city hospital, which confirmed several injuries all over his body. He said the report would be attached to a complaint to the Prosecutor General.
Javadov also said that Suleymanov — who recently underwent lung surgery — had to be hospitalised on Wednesday due to his injuries.
The Azerbaijani Commissioner for Human Rights, Sabina Aliyeva, stated that they had received appeals by the detainees and were investigating them. She said that their office had already appealed to the Interior Minister over the initial appeals.
‘A violation of the constitution’
Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Yalchin Imanov told OC Media that the police had committed ‘multiple violations’, calling their actions over the weekend ‘inadequate’.
According to him, people throwing rubbish at the police was an administrative violation only, and the usage of riot police, as well as the level of force used by officers, was ‘disproportionate’.
‘The police operation did not resemble something related to an administrative arrest, but was more suited to antiterrorism detentions or those for another severe crime’, he said.
He also said that the police had violated the constitutional right to the sanctity of the home.
‘To intervene in a flat, there must be a court decision or a reasoned decision by an investigator, which are given when there is a corpse in the flat, or reasoned suspicions of a severe crime accomplished against the state, or hiding a suspect of a crime in the flat’, he said.
Imanov told OC Media that officers also violated many Azerbaijani laws on police activity while beating and insulting the citizens. ‘In no case should a police officer take an action that degrades human dignity’, he said.
According to him, the ‘root of the problem’ lay in the unfairness of the Operational Headquarters’s decision.
He concluded that the Operational Headquarters itself was ‘not a legitimate body and does not have legitimate authority’.