Around a dozen women gathered in central Baku on Friday calling for the release of opposition activist Alzamin Salayev. Salayev was allegedly detained and tortured after coming to Baku to report a high-ranking police official he claimed had raped a woman.
The women chanted ‘Freedom to Alzamin’, ‘Stop police violence’, and ‘Stop violence against women’ among other things.
Shortly after they gathered, the protesters were confronted by police officers and a man in civilian clothes, who asked them to disperse.
Police escorted the women to the Sahil Metro Station where they ended their protest.
On Thursday, the opposition Popular Front Party, of which Salayev is a member, said that he was arrested after travelling to Baku to make a complaint against Hamza Azizov, the head of the Investigation unit of Salyan District Police Department.
Salayev claims Azizov raped a 21-year-old woman — Aytakin Abiyeva.
Abiyeva, who has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, was sentenced on 20 January to 7 years in prison for stabbing Azizov.
Salayev has also said that Azizov claims to be a relative of Interior Minister Vilayet Eyvazov.
After being arrested, a court issued Salayev 30 days of administrative detention.
On Wednesday, Meydan TV published a letter from Salayev obtained from his lawyer in which Salayev said police officers were beating him in custody.
The Popular Front Party said that after being beaten, Salayev was brought to a hospital where doctors said he had a hernia in his abdominal cavity and needed urgent surgery. They said officers had refused to allow this and returned him to the detention centre in a ‘severe condition’, where he was also prevented from seeing his family.
Demands to release Salayev and to punish the officers who allegedly tortured him, as well as Hamza Azizov, and to review Abiyeva’s case were published by Popular Front leader Ali Karimli, the National Council of Democratic Forces, and opposition politician Ali Insanov.
An Interior Ministry spokesperson told APA on Wednesday that the allegations of torture against Salayev were a lie. The spokesperson said that Salayev was detained for being drunk in public.
Allegations of rape
Rape allegations against Hamza Azizov have so far only been aired by the Popular Front Party’s Alzamin Salayev.
In an interview with Azadliq Qazeti on Sunday, Ofelya Abiyeva, the mother of the alleged victim, Aytekin Abiyeva, said she was certain Azizov had been blackmailing her daughter but stopped short of outright accusing him of rape.
‘I don’t know what exactly he said or did to her’, she said.
She said her daughter came into contact with Azizov in September, after the family called the police for assistance. According to her, Aytekin had left home due to a dispute with the family and they had called to report her missing.
‘After around 20 minutes, [Hamza Azizov] called us and said that our daughter had been found’.
According to her, Azizov was aware that her daughter had previously left her husband for another man and took advantage of this.
She said that when she went to the police station to pick up her daughter, ‘she was trembling and asking me to leave, saying “they will do something to my brother”.’
After several days, she said her daughter disappeared from home again. ‘We called [police official Hamza Azizov…] he told us not to worry and that she would come home tomorrow evening. We started getting suspicious then’, she said.
According to Ofelya Abiyeva, Azizov blackmailed her daughter not to return home by threatening her brother. She said she was aware that the police official was in contact with her daughter because he would text her in front of them.
‘He always told us that she [Aytekin] had gone crazy’.
She said on 17 September she finally convinced Azizov to let her see her daughter. They went by car with Azizov, she said, who then went alone and talked with Aytekin for some time.
‘She stabbed him to protect herself on that day’, Ofelya Abiyeva said.
She said that after her daughter was arrested, she looked through the messages on her phone and saw that Alzamin Salayev was indeed trying to help her daughter. ‘He was tortured because of my daughter’, she said.
Local women’s rights activist Gulnara Mehdiyeva told OC Media that they condemned Abiyeva’s treatment but that it was just one of many such cases of violence against women in Azerbaijan.
‘Aytakin Abiyeva’s case should be investigated. And the harsh pressure on Alzamin [Salayev], who highlighted the issue, now makes us think that the allegations are true’, she said.
Although Mehdiyeva noted that ‘no matter how difficult it is’, the presumption of innocence should be preserved.
‘It was not possible to speak to the victim herself because she is in prison and we do not know her side. We have not been able to identify and confirm who stated the “rape” word’.
She said that if the allegations were true, ‘the problem here is connected with the family ties’ and a ‘lack of transparency’ — Azizov is reportedly related to the Interior Minister.
‘In general, law enforcement agencies play a special role in the normalisation of violence against women in the country’.
‘That is, even if there are no family ties, in other crimes the police don’t tend to investigate and punish the perpetrator.’