Police in Baku dispersed a demonstration by women’s rights activists in Baku to mark International Women’s Day as soon as it got underway.
At least 25 people were detained, some being dragged away by police. They were taken to police stations throughout the city and soon after released, after their personal details were recorded.
This was the third year that women’s rights activists in Azerbaijan have organised a demonstration on 8 March. Events in previous years were also violently dispersed by police.
This year’s march was to focus on gender-based violence and femicide. Despite the police’s intervention, organisers managed to read aloud a statement making several demands.
These included for Azerbaijan to adopt the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention.
They also called for crimes against women to be fully investigated, and for the authorities to stop preventing women from organising and gathering.
The march was planned to start in front of Fountain Square and end in front of the ‘Free Woman’ statue in the city centre. Activists submitted a letter informing the Baku City Executive Power of their intention to march however permission was denied.
Police began moving against the protesters before the demonstration began, detaining several of the organisers from a cafe prior to the march.
As soon as demonstrators displayed posters, with messages like ‘Even if we are wearing masks, we will not be silenced’ and ‘murdered women are the cause of our rebellion’, police began rounding up participants and dragging them into waiting police cars
The Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that no one was detained during the protest, and that officers only ‘removed them from the area’.
Zhala Bayramova, one of the march’s organisers told OC Media she was physically harassed by male officers while being dragged into the 9th police Department.
According to fellow activist Gulnara Mehdiyeva, Bayramova was pushed to the ground and kicked by officers in the police station.
Rabiyya Mammadova, another well-known feminist activist, claimed that she was abducted from a taxi on her way to the protest. According to her, she was taken to the 37th Police Department and beaten by officers. Bruises were visible on Mammadova’s body in a video she posted on Facebook after the incident.
After the organisers were released, several smaller actions were held in various locations.
Days before the march took place, the chief spokesperson for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ehsan Zahidov, vowed that the police would prevent it.
The authorities also shut down public transport in the city, citing a need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the holidays. No similar measures have been taken during any previous holiday since the pandemic began.
Activists insisted the shut down was because the authorities were afraid of their protest, and collected donations in order to organise taxis for those that could not otherwise make it to the march.
Throughout most of the Caucasus this year, events to mark International Women’s Day were restricted to official events and concerts and the handing of flowers to women, including by police.
In Georgia, in contrast, peaceful marches took place in major towns and cities throughout the country.
The focus of this year’s campaign in Georgia was the suicide of a 14-year-old Nini, an alleged rape victim in Georgia’s Adjara region on 10 February.
Read more on the story: 'Systemic inaction' to blame for suicide of 14-year-old alleged rape victim.
With additional reporting by Ulviyya Ali.