Three Azerbaijani students have been arrested while attempting to protest against alleged corruption outside the Lankaran State University.
Orkhan Iskenderli, a student at the Lankaran university, and Samir Akhunzadeh and Ahmad Mammadli, both student activists from the Student Power Centre were found not guilty of violating quarantine later the same day.
The students had attempted to conduct a peaceful protest in front of the university on Monday.
The Student Power Centre told OC Media they had received complaints from around 100 students from universities throughout the country, including the Lankaran State University, during the winter exam sessions.
The group claims that Lankaran State University illegally asked students to pay their full annual tuition as soon as the exam sessions began, and announced that those who did not pay would not be allowed to take the exams.
According to the regulations students are entitled to pay the annual fee at the end of the academic year.
Akhundzadeh told OC Media that police attempted to pressure the three of them, and told them they had been detained because complaints were filed against them.
‘While detained the investigator told us that we are taking grants from opposition leader Ali Kerimli in order to do this, yet in fact, we are sponsored by students’.
He said police had told them to write in their official statements that they had been invited to the police station in order to be explained the quarantine regulations.
Akhundzade said that students were often reluctant to speak out because they were afraid of being expelled. ‘It’s like being against the university is being against the state.’
The Student Power Centre claimed they were able to contact the leadership of the university but were told by an assistant of the rector that: ‘we have no accountability to you, we know what kind of decision to make.’
The university responded to the incident with a statement on Facebook in which they accused the media of spreading false information about the students’ detention.
The university insisted they had not complained to the police about the protests, as some had claimed.
‘If the district's law enforcement agencies have detained any person or student outside the university, it makes no sense to directly blame the university administration’, their statement said.
Lankaran City District Police Department also denied that they had received a complaint from the university.
Problems of students in Azerbaijan
In their statement read aloud in front of the university before the arrests, the Student Power Centre expressed several demands. They advocated for free education, autonomy for universities and student organisations, academic freedom, and scholarships and housing for students.
Despite the pandemic and unemployment factors in the country, students have not received any benefits from the government. Many have complained of a lack of internet infrastructure for online education.
In their statement, the Student Power Centre also underlined Article 45 of the Azerbaijani Constitution, which enshrines the right to receive an education in one’s mother tongue.
In Azerbaijan, which is a multi-ethnic country, minorities do not receive education in their own language beyond primary school.
According to the statement, the university in Lankaran, which is the administrative and cultural centre of the Talysh people, has no courses in Talysh language.