Around 20 people marched through Baku’s Winter Park on Monday demanding the release of opposition politician Azad Hasanov and others widely considered by rights groups to be political prisoners. The protest was dispersed by the police and 13 of the marchers were detained.
Azad Hasanov, a member of the opposition Musavat Party, was arrested on drug-related charges charges on 12 October, two days after he returned to Baku from Lithuania.
On 22 July, Hasanov went on hunger strike in protest at the delay in investigating his case.
A spokesperson for the Musavat Party, Mustafa Hajibeyli, told the Baku-based Turan Information Agency that the ‘detention centre’s leadership was putting pressure on Hasanov to end the hunger strike’.
On 26 July, the fifth day of his hunger strike, Hasanov was transferred to the medical unit of the detention centre he was being held because of a deterioration in his health, according to Hajibeyli.
Monday’s march took place after members of the Musavat Party gathered to mark Hasanov’s birthday near the court where a hearing of his case was taking place. They were demanding that Hasanov be released.
Nurlan Gakharmanli, one of the marchers who was detained, told OC Media that after the gathering near the court a group of roughly 20 people separated from the gathering and left for the Winter Park in Baku, where they began their march.
The protesters were holding posters with the slogan ‘Freedom for Azad Hasanov’. They chanted ‘Freedom for Azad Hasanov and all political prisoners’, changing to ‘Resign!’ once police officers arrived.
According to Gakhramanli, he and 12 others were detained. All the detainees were released soon after.
The Baku Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Musavat Youth leader arrested
Later on Monday, Elman Guliyev, the head of Musavat Youth Organisation, was brought before a court in Baku because of his participation in the protest and was sentenced to 30 days in prison for disobeying a police officer.
Guliyev’s lawyer, Osman Kazimov, who is also representing Azad Hasanov, told OC Media that Guliyev was arrested for swearing at police officers.
‘Two police officers said that Guliyev swore at them, and the other two said that he didn’t’, he said.
He said that he had notified the judge about footage from the protest which showed that Guliyev did not violate the law.
Kazimov also insisted that his client’s right to a fair defence was violated.
‘While Elman Guliyev was being brought to the Nasimi District Court, I was asked to defend him, and also he himself wanted it. Because of the late hours, we couldn’t sign a contract, because our working hours are over, and in such cases, the court should postpone consideration of the case’.
‘The court should give the opportunity to someone suspected of committing an administrative violation to choose a lawyer for their defence. But the court didn’t do that and violated Guliyev’s right to a defence’, he said.
Mass hunger strikes against political prosecutions
At least 20 people both in prison and on the outside went on a mass hunger strike in Azerbaijan in January 2019 in protest against political prosecutions in the country.
The hunger strikes began after new charges were brought against anti-corruption blogger Mehman Huseynov just two months before he was due to be released.
The new charges were dropped after thousands protested in Baku calling for Huseynov’s release and an end to politically motivated prosecutions.
[Read on OC Media: Charges dropped against Huseynov after thousands rally in Baku]
According to the latest report by the Working Group on a Unified List of Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan, made up of local activists, journalists, and civil society groups, there were 127 political prisoners in the country as of 20 February.
According to the BBC’s Azerbaijani service, a list by the Centre for the Protection of Political Prisoners, a local rights group, included 137 people.
In March, almost 400 prisoners were released in Azerbaijan after President Ilham Aliyev issued an amnesty to mark the Novruz holiday. Fifty-two of those receiving pardons were widely considered by rights groups and international organisations to be political prisoners.
[Read more on OC Media: Aliyev frees 52 ‘political prisoners’ as part of Novruz amnesty]