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Leak targets prominent Azerbaijani feminist in run-up to Women’s Day 

26 February 2021
Gulnara Mehdiyeva. Photo: Sabina Abubakirova/OC Media.

The private Facebook conversations of a prominent Azerbaijani women’s rights activist have been published online less than two weeks before International Women’s Day.

Recordings of conversations between Gulnara Mehdiyeva and a friend were first published on a Facebook page with over 60,000 followers.

In a 7-minute video report on the page, private voice messages sent by Mehdiyeva detail her distress over an abusive relationship. Mehdiyeva speaks of having an emotional breakdown and accompanying physical consequences from depression in 2016.

Women’s rights activists organise actions every year on 8 March focusing on topics like domestic violence and femicide, although details of this year’s events have not yet been announced.

Mehdiyeva announced that her Facebook profile was hacked a year ago, three days after a march on International Women’s Day was broken up by police.

A demonstration on 8 March 2020 to mark International Women’s Day. Photo:  Vugar Mirzabey
Gulnara Mehdiyeva was present at the 2020 march when police broke up the demonstration. Photo: Vugar Mirzabey.

She told OC Media that her private conversations were stolen along with details of other women’s rights activists. She said she suspected the police were responsible. 

Last week, Mehdiyeva disclosed that members of a private Facebook group for women to speak about their problems was targeted by police following the hack. The group had around 300 members including Mehdiyeva.

She said police were sent to the homes of all members of the group, and in some cases, the fathers of members were summoned to police stations.  

A campaign against feminism

The leak comes amidst an online campaign by several conservative groups targeting feminist activists.

It follows the death of 20-year-old Sevil Atakishiyeva, who took her own life after receiving death threats from her family.

[Read more: Young woman's suicide shakes Azerbaijan]

Mehdiyeva had shared screenshots of messages she exchanged with Atakishiyeva in which the young woman detailed abuse she suffered at the hands of her family.

Conservative pages on social media responded by claiming that the issue of violence against women was exaggerated in Azerbaijan. A widely shared post from one group claimed that ‘Feminism kills, protect your children’.

The page that released the private messages from Mehdiyeva insinuated that she was directly responsible for Atakishiyeva’s death because of her own mental health problems.

‘Do you think this schizophrenic, mentally ill person can help girls who want to commit suicide?’, their video said.

Mehdiyeva attributed the campaign against her to fear from the authorities of the feminist movement.

‘This year, before 8 March, the government is afraid of what I will do for the women’s march, so they have already started distributing various private materials seized from my profile’, she said.

‘What can I say, it doesn’t matter. Do your best. I knew and expected such things before 8 March. I'm glad to see you’re scared’, she added. 

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