An observer recorded on camera being attacked during Azerbaijan’s February parliamentary elections has been threatened with criminal charges for filming the woman who attacked her.
Jale Bayramova, an observer from the campaign of independent candidate Khalid Baghirov, was attacked on 9 February, election day, at a polling station in the village of Shuruk in Lankaran southern Azerbaijan.
The video of the attack was shared widely on social media.
Bayramova has said that the attack was organised by the secretary of the constituency, Mubariz Amirov.
A number of other violations were reported in polling stations in Shuruk, where Bayramova was stationed.
[Read more on OC Media: Preliminary results show almost no change in Azerbaijan parliament]
Conflict in the polling station
Bayramova told OC Media that, on the morning of the vote, Amirov came to the polling station where she was an observer, and began to interfere with her and other observers, repeatedly asking them to leave and even calling the police on them.
‘During the whole process the police were on our side […] because we [the observers] knew our rights and duties’, she said.
Bayramova has alleged that Amirov had an argument with her about the location in the polling station where she was sitting, and at one point in the argument, when she told Amirov that she was ‘aware of her rights’, he requested that she film him.
‘While I was filming Mubariz Amirov [...] Azada [Karimova] who was not a member of the election commission or a voter, suddenly moved in front of my camera and started screaming, “Why are you filming me?” ’ Bayramova recalled.
She noted that despite not intending to film Karimova, just Amirov, she still had the right to film Karimova regardless.
‘I wanted to explain to her the Election Code and the guidelines about cameras at polling stations, but I couldn’t, because she tried to grab my phone […] and then she grabbed me by the hair and dragged me as far as the election boxes’.
‘The video footage of me being beaten does not depict the whole process, she [Karimova] was also scratching my face […] hitting me’, she said.
Bayramova said that Karimova’s ID card identified her as a resident of the Fizuli District, which has no relation to the Lankaran constituency where the altercation took place.
She said that Karimova continued to attack her and that she feared for her life. After the attack, Bayramova called the police.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Ehsan Zahidov stated on 11 February that Bayramova was beaten not because she was trying to prevent electoral fraud at the polling station, but because she was filming voters.
A spokesperson from the ministry’s Lankaran Regional Group told Azerbaijani news website Qafqazinfo that Bayramova went to the Lankaran police department on 10 February — the day after the election.
‘An examination was made to determine the extent of the injuries she had. At the moment, the investigation is ongoing. Depending on the results of the medical examination and the investigation a legal assessment will be made’, he said on 14 February.
Independent candidate Khalid Baghirov said that he submitted a complaint to the OSCE election observation group regarding the incident.
Complaint against Bayramova
Mazahir Panahov, chair of Azerbaijan’s Central Election Committee (CEC), told journalists on Thursday that Bayramova was ‘spreading misinformation to the whole world’.
‘She was asked by one woman not to be filmed. But this girl [Bayramova] continued to film’, he said. ‘A citizen has the right to want not to be filmed.’
Panahov reported that Karimova had made a complaint to law enforcement about the incident.
‘The girl who filmed her will be punished according to the law’, Panahov said.
Gubad Ibadoghlu, Bayramova’s father, told OC Media that they were not aware if a criminal case was actually opened against Bayramova or if these were only Panahov’s assertions.
Human rights defender Emin Abbasov told OC Media that according to Azerbaijani legislation, personal information is any information that directly or indirectly identifies a person. He said that this does not include a person’s picture or a recording of their voice.
Abbasov further noted that the European Convention on Human Rights, which Azerbaijan is a signatory to, guarantees freedom of expression.
‘This includes individuals’ important interests, such as access to and dissemination of information on matters of common interest or political issues’, he said.
According to Abbasov, Bayramova had a right to take photos and videos provided that it did not violate voting secrecy and that there was no legitimate or reasonable public interest in prohibiting or limiting this right.
‘Voting is a public interest activity, and voters fulfill their public duty during the vote’, he said. ‘Moreover, the CEC, […] to ensure transparency during the elections, used web-cameras at 1,000 polling stations to broadcast the process online.’
As a result, he said, voters were ‘aware of the possibility of video surveillance of all those present at the polling station’.