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Feminist activist expelled from municipal council in Azerbaijan

27 August 2020
Vafa Naghi. Photo via Facebook.

Feminist activist Vafa Naghi, elected in Azerbaijan’s recent municipal elections, was expelled from her position in the municipal council for missing several council meetings. Naghi has said she was expelled because she was exposing corruption.

Vafa Naghi was elected in December to the municipal council of the village of  Khol Garagashli in southern Azerbaijan’s Neftchala District. Since her election, she has reported on local corruption using social media — and has claimed in the past that council chair Alibala Salimov has pressured her to stop.  

[Read more on OC Media: Azerbaijani feminist local councillor ‘publicly shamed’ after reporting on corruption]

Naghi was deprived of her position in a vote by the municipal council on 20 August. She has told OC Media that she was receiving medical treatment in  Turkey at the time. She said she believes Salimov to be behind her removal.

She said that she had sent a letter informing the council that she would be absent for medical reasons, and that despite this, Salimov had convened meetings of the council. She said she believes the sole purpose of this was having her removed.    

She was in Turkey from 25 July to 21 August. 

On 25 August, Naghi wrote on her Facebook that for the 17 years Salimov had been the chair of the municipality he had never convened a meeting of ‘his falsely elected members’, adding that she was ‘glad that after I came this became a tradition’. 

Salimov told Voice of America that the municipal council has held nine meetings since the beginning of the year. According to him, the last five meetings of the municipality council were held on 30 July between and 20 August — all while Naghi was out of the country. 

He explained the high frequency of council meetings in the last month compared to earlier months was due to quarantine measures that had been in place earlier in the year.  

On 25 August, Salimov told Meydan TV that Naghi’s expulsion from the council is justified by the Law on the Status of Municipalities

According to the law, if a municipality member misses three municipal meetings in a row or does not attend more than half of the meetings held during the year without a valid reason, they can be removed from their position.

‘As Vafa Naghi did not attend the meeting three times, the commission put the issue of her expulsion on the agenda’, he said.

According to Salimov, when Naghi did not attend her fifth meeting in a row, the municipality voted to expel her. The vote took place on 20 August, and of the seven members of the council present all but one voted in support of her expulsion. 

‘Valid reason’

Salimov told Meydan TV that the municipal council never received a formal letter from Naghi explaining the reason for her absence. 

The following day, he told Voice of America that Naghi did send a letter, but that it arrived at the Neftchala district on 22 August, and he only received it on 25 August. 

Picture of the bill for the letter sent by Naghi from Turkey on 6 August.

‘I am sure that the letter arrived earlier because I was tracking the letter’, Naghi told OC Media, adding that she had sent the letter on 6 August. ‘On the other hand, even if the letter arrived later, it should not have been a problem.’

Rasul Jafarov, the head of Human Rights Club, a local rights NGO, told OC Media that Alibala Salimov appears to demonstrate ‘a subjective attitude in this matter’ and said his actions seem to be connected with Naghi’s previous criticisms of him and his administration.  

‘The law about municipalities’, he said, clearly says that a municipality member could be expelled only if they did not attend the council meeting three times in a row without a valid reason.’

The letter Naghi sent on 6 August, he added, is proof that her absence was valid, and that if she had missed three meetings in a row because they were held with unusual frequency ‘it is already not Naghi’s fault’. 

Naghi’s expulsion, before it is final, Jafarov said, must go through court. And, even if it is approved by a Court of First Instance, only if it is also approved by a Court of Appeal would it be final. 

He added that, as well as the Court of Appeal, Naghi has other legal avenues she can pursue, if she claims that other the municipal council members expelled her due to ‘biased attitudes’. 

Naghi told OC Media that she considers the actions of the municipality members illegal and she will be challenging her expulsion in court and that she will also send a complaint to the Central Election Committee (CEC).

On 27 March, CEC Secretary Mikayil Rahimov told Turan that he believed the decision of the council meeting to expel Naghi ‘should be canceled’. 

‘A member of an election body elected by people cannot be deprived of her powers on the basis of a decision of any meeting. Vafa Nagi can go to court’, he said.

OC Media reached out to Alibala Salimov for comment by phone. The man on the line identified himself as Salimov, and upon being informed that a media organisation was on the line, claimed that while this was Salimov’s number, he was not actually Salimov before hanging up.  

Further attempts to reach Salimov have been unsuccessful.

[Read more about Vafa Naghi on OC Media: Voice | ‘I did all these things so that the women would not lose hope’]

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