Four members of the opposition Popular Front Party’s presidium and dozens of their activists were arrested following the massive rally in Baku on the night of 14 July during which protestors briefly occupied the Azerbaijani parliament.
Fuad Gakhramanli, a member of opposition Popular Front Party’s presidium, was detained by police at his home on the afternoon of 23 July, according to a statement made by party head Ali Karimli that same day.
On 24 July, the Nasimi District Court announced that, for actions allegedly carried out in connection with the mass rally in Baku between 14 and 15 July, Gakhramanli stands accused of committing actions aimed at 'forcible seizure of power or change of the constitutional order'.
If convicted he faces 12 to 20 years in prison. He has also been accused of destruction of property, disturbing the public order, and disobeying police orders.
The party said that Gahramanli did not participate in the rally and called his arrest ‘politically motivated’.
On Sunday, Mammad Ibrahim, another member of the party’s presidium was arrested while bringing supplies to his son, who has been in detention since 15 July. Ibrahim’s son was accused of breaking the quarantine regime and spreading COVID-19 during the rally — Ibrahim has denied the allegations and said his son was never ill with the virus.
[Read more on OC Media: Thousands of pro-war protesters rally in Azerbaijan]
Gahramanli and Ibrahim were not the only presidium members of the party who were detained. Earlier, on 20 July, two other members of the party presidium, Asif Yusifli and Bakhtiyar Imanov, were also arrested.
Aside from party leaders, the Popular Front reported that at least 40 of their members have been detained since the Baku rally.
Jamil Hasanli, the chair of opposition coalition National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of Azerbaijani opposition groups which includes the Popular Front Party, stated on Monday that the detainees have been subject to ‘horrific torture’ and denied their right to legal counsel.
‘We need to resolve the issue of the fifth column’
In a speech on 15 July, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev generally praised the 14 July rally, calling it ‘another picture showing the unity of the people and power’.
He also took the opportunity to condemn ‘provocative groups’, which he accused of committing ‘hooliganism’ and who he claimed tried to ‘disrupt public order’. Harking back to a speech he had delivered earlier in the year, he referred to the opposition as a treacherous ‘fifth column’.
The president alleged that he had received information during the rally that members of the Popular Front Party ‘infiltrated the masses and tried to induce people to illegal actions’.
Calling the supposed infiltrators ‘worse than Armenians’, he accused the Popular Front Party of collaborating with the Armenian government in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
‘We need to resolve the issue of the fifth column’, Aliyev said. ‘This cannot continue.’
The National Council of Democratic Forces has condemned Aliyev’s speech, calling it the beginning of a ‘new and more ruthless repression against the opposition’.
They stated that neither they nor the Popular Front Party organised the 14 July rally nor officially participated in it.
‘It was a protest of people who demonstrated their determination and will to liberate their lands’, their statement reads. They also defended Popular Front chair Ali Karimli, stating that he had an ‘honest and patriotic position’ and that ‘he stood with the state and the army in these difficult times’.
The attacks on Karimli and the party, they stated, was a manifestation of ‘the regime’s helplessness and psychological tension amid growing social discontent, public anger and international distrust’.