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‘Kidnapped’ opposition activist sentenced to 30 days in Azerbaijan

11 September 2019
Ruslan Amirli (left) and Popular Front Party leader Ali Karimli (right). Photograph: Ali Karimli/Facebook.

An opposition activist in Azerbaijan who was reportedly abducted on Tuesday by unknown men has reappeared in custody and been sentenced to 30 days administrative detention. His disappearance and subsequent prosecution came soon after he was threatened with ‘crucifixion’ by the founder of ‘National Fedayis’ movement.

Ruslan Amirli, a member of the Popular Front Party, reportedly disappeared in the early hours of Tuesday. Gozel Bayramli, the party’s vice-chair, told OC Media that Amirli was kidnapped by 7–8 men dressed in civilian clothing in front of Baku’s Oncology Centre, where he was visiting his sister. 

According to her, several days before the incident, Amirli received death threats from the founder of the National Fedayis movement, Fuad Muradov, who promised to ‘crucify’ him.

Asked by journalist Nurlan Gakhramanli if he had any connection to Amirli’s ‘abduction’ following his disappearance, Muradov, who said he was in Turkey at the time, replied: ‘I had a hand in this’. 

A recording of the conversation (in Azerbaijani)

Later on, Muradov noted that anyone who spoke badly of him ‘will get their reply’. 

‘I say again, anyone who tries to [speak] behind my back, or to try to tarnish the path of statehood that I am following, will find their punishment, either in a legal, lawful way, or in some other way […] I will give them their punishment one by one’, he said. 

‘We are not afraid of anything, whoever tries to talk badly about us, about those who defend the state, will get their punishment’, he added. 

‘It was demonstrative for Amirli let it be demonstrative for the youth of the Popular Front Party that they should not play any games with us’, Muradov said. 

Bayramli told OC Media that several hours after this conversation, the Yasamal District Police Department informed them that Amirli was being held at the 29th Police Station, where he had spent the night.

Amirli was sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention for petty hooliganism and disobeying police, Meydan TV reported.

According to Turan, police accused him of cursing obscenely in the street and refusing to obey them. 

Turan quoted Amirli’s lawyer as saying that the court rejected a request by the defence to examine CCTV footage of the area and to call witnesses. They said the defence would appeal the conviction.

‘We consider this a continuation of the government’s campaign of pressure and persecution against the Popular Front Party’, Bayramli told OC Media. ‘Last month, five members of our party were subject to illegal administrative arrests and fines.’

A quick trial and violence against journalists

Baku’s Yasamal District Court held a closed hearing of Amirli’s case on Wednesday morning.

Nemet Abbasov, a member of the Popular Front Party’s youth committee, told OC Media that police used violence against party activists who came to support Amirli outside the courthouse, as well as journalists who were present.

‘They were violently pushed 150–200 metres away from the court’, he said. 

Journalist Fatima Movlamli told OC Media that police also used violence against two of the three journalists who were near the courthouse — herself and Nurlan Gakhramanli, who interviewed Muradov the day before.

‘When the [hearing] started the police started to push us aside saying “go away”. I started filming and then they attacked Nurlan’, she said. ‘The police attacked me, grabbed my phone, pushed me and I sprained my ankle, it is a bit swollen […] they swore at us […] behaved very badly towards us’, Movlamli said.

A journalist from Azerbaijani newspaper Azaldig falling to the ground after being pushed by police outside the court. Still from a video by Nurlan Gakhramanli.

‘I said it because I was nervous’

The founder of the National Fedayi movement, Fuad Muradov, denied to OC Media that he had any connection with Amirli’s disappearance, and said that what he told Gakhramanli, he did so out of anger.

The National Fedayi movement is named after an early 20th-century nationalist group of the same name. ‘According to our ideology, no matter who is the president of the Azerbaijani Republic, we will protect this person in the name of our statehood’, Muradov said. 

He said the movement had no political ambitions nor any connections with the government. The group has previously kept a low profile.

‘I have no idea why Amirli’s arrest happened such a short time after our conversation. Maybe the government itself punished him […] I’m curious myself’, he said. 

‘Maybe someone is trying to make make a [pro-governmental] figure out of me. I have no information about that.’

‘When the journalist called me and asked me, I told him: “Go and write whatever you want: Yes, I did that and I did it right” ’, Muradov said.

He said he did so because he was tired of being accused of being connected with the government, and believed that by saying so and getting himself arrested he would disprove the rumours. ‘I said it because I was nervous’, he added.

What was the conflict about? 

Muradov told OC Media that his conflict with members of the Popular Front began after they accused him of being a part of an armed group. 

‘I called Ruslan and asked him how he could prove that […] “did anybody came to you with weapons?” They presented old photos of me as facts, saying that I have weapons. But if I had weapons how could I be on the loose?’, Muradov said.

‘I [repeatedly] made explanations to the Ministry of Interior about these images, and because of them, my brother-in-law was fired from his job’, he added.

The Popular Front’s Nemet Abbasov told OC Media that Muradov had been photographed holding weapons several times, while his colleague Gozel Bayramli added that Muradov had also sent death threats to another party activist, Nijat Abdullazadeh.

Photographs of Fuad Muradov holding guns.

Muradov said he had offered to meet and talk with Amirli about the allegations, but that Amirli had declined, accusing him of trying to start a fight. 

‘And then I replied that there are no humans among you, and you should be nailed to Ali Karimli [the chair of the Popular Front Party]’, he said.

Muradov added that one of the main reasons for his confrontation with the Popular Front Party was the ‘anti-nationalistic’ rhetoric of its leaders.

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