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Dozens arrested in Baku during protest demanding release of Saleh Rustamli

2 December 2021
Police detain protesters. Video still via Meydan TV.

At least 40 protesters were detained for breaching pandemic health protocols during a protest demanding freedom for opposition Popular Front Party member Saleh Rustamli. He has been on hunger strike for nearly a month.

The rally was held in Baku’s Fountain Square on 1 December. Most of those detained by the police have since been released. 

Many activists numbered among those who were detained, including former political prisoners Tofig Yagublu, Ilkin Rustamzade, Nigar Hazi.

Yagublu and Dadashzadeh appeared to have been severely beaten during their detention, with Yagublu, a member of the opposition  Musavat Party, claiming that he had been beaten and tortured by the Ministry of Interior’s Main Organised Crime Department.

According to the opposition party member, he was hooded and taken to a remote area, where he was coerced into promising that he would give up political activism.

He said he was ultimately set free in the settlement of Alat, southwest of Baku. 

Tofig Yagublu. ‘I can't see. I have to lift my eyelids with my hands to look’, Yagublu was quoted as saying on his daughter’s Facebook page. Photo via Nigar Yagublu’s Facebook page.

According to Ehsan Zahidov, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the rally was illegal as protestors did not receive permission from the proper authorities to hold the demonstration.

A ministry statement called the rally a  ‘gross violation of the rules of the special [COVID-19] quarantine regime’. 

Five of the protesters who were detained have been placed in 15 to 30 days of administrative detention for breaching pandemic protocols. Four of them are members of the Popular Front Party.

Rustamli, a prominent and long time member of the party was sentenced to seven years in prison in February 2019 on charges of money laundering — he has gone on hunger strike to demand his release.

On 2 December, Sezgin Rustamli, Rustamli’s son, said that his father’s condition was worsening, and said that his father had been slipping in and out of consciousness intermittently. 

He also said that the elder Rustamli had met with his legal counsel and passed on his apologies to those who were injured or detained because of the protest.

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