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OC Media contributor detained as police disperse Tofig Yagublu solidarity protest in Baku

9 September 2020
Photo: Nurlan Gahramanli.

Police have reportedly detained over a dozen people including OC Media columnist Bahruz Samadov at a protest in support of Tofig Yagublu in central Baku. 

Dozens of protesters gathered on Wednesday in support of Yagublu, one of the leaders of the opposition Musavat Party, who is currently on hunger strike in prison. 

Yagublu began his hunger strike on 2 September against what he called the ‘fabricated’ case against him. On 3 September, the Nizami District Court in Baku sentenced him to four years and three months in prison on charges of hooliganism. 

[Read more on OC Media: Imprisoned Azerbaijani opposition leader on ‘hunger strike until death’

According to news agency Turan, over 30 people were detained. Those detained included Yagublu’s daughter, Nigar Hazi, women’s rights activist Gulnara Mehdiyeva, feminist activist and municipal councillor Vafa Naghi, and Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, a former candidate for parliamentary elections.

On Wednesday afternoon, Samadov told OC Media that all of the detainees had been freed.

Gulnara Mehdiyeva (centre) was among those detained. Photo: Ramin Deko.

The protest, which was organised on social media by the Free Left Alliance group, was originally planned to be held in front of the Constitutional Court at 15:00. 

After riot police and units from the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response Regiment blocked the roads leading to the court, protesters instead gathered on a nearby street.

Later on Wednesday another protest in support of Yagublu was held in front of the Nizami District Court, where he was earlier sentenced to 4 years and three months in prison. 

Over a dozen participants wearing bandages on their heads and t-shirts with ‘Freedom!’ and ‘Freedom to Tofig Yagublu’ letterings were dispersed by the police with several of them detained.

Yagublu has received support from a number of opposition groups and activists both in Azerbaijan and abroad. Several Azerbaijani activists have begun hunger strikes in support for him. 

Several previous protests in his support have also been dispersed since he began his hunger strike.

A ‘prisoner of conscience’

Yagublu was detained on 22 March and charged with attacking a married couple with a screwdriver following a car accident in Baku.

Several days before his arrest, President Ilham Aliyev announced that dissidents would be detained and, if necessary, isolated during the national quarantine.

Yagublu’s version of events differed significantly. ‘My parked car was demonstratively hit [by another car] and then they [the people in the other car] attacked me’, he wrote on Facebook shortly before his arrest.

His lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, told OC Media following the verdict that his arrest was illegal. ‘He must be released immediately’, Sadigov said.

His daughter, Nigar Hazi, who was among those arrested on Wedenesday, previously told OC Media that her father’s life was at risk due to his hunger strike.

‘My father has serious health problems. Most importantly, he suffers from asthma. We don’t know how long he will be able to endure this hunger strike. But if anything happens to my father, the government will be responsible for that,’ Hazi said. 

His prosecution, especially coming as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic, has been widely condemned by rights groups.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that his convictions showed ‘the extent Azerbaijani authorities are willing to go to subvert the rule of law to retaliate against government critics.’ Amnesty International condemned Yagublu’s ‘outrageous politically motivated sentence’ and declared him a prisoner of conscience.

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