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‘You are a whore’: Azerbaijani journalists condemn ‘abuse by police’

9 August 2021
The Khazar District Police Station. Photo: Voice of America.

Three Azerbaijani journalists who were detained while covering a protest against femicide have claimed to have been verbally and physically abused by police officers.

Ulviyya Ali, Nargis Absalamova, and Elnare Gasimova told OC Media that they had been punched, insulted, and had equipment broken by police despite identifying themselves as journalists.

On 4 August, three women’s rights activists staged a protest in front of the Khazar District Police Office in Baku, throwing red paint on the walls of the building. A day earlier, 24-year-old Sevinj Maharramova was murdered, allegedly by her husband, despite several times approaching the Khazar District police with allegations of domestic abuse.

[Read more: Azerbaijani woman 'murdered by husband' despite appeals to police over abuse]

The three journalists said that police had initially attempted to force them to delete their photos and videos before they were informed by their superiors that images of the protest had already been broadcast online.

Ali, Absalamova, and Gasimova said that the three activists, Gulnara Mehdiyeva, Sevgi Ismayilbayli, and Narmin Shahmarzade, were also detained and were also insulted and physically abused by police at the police station.

‘Nargiz Absalamova’s lip exploded, her finger was injured and swollen’, Ulviyya Ali, one of the detained journalists, told OC Media. ‘Gulnara and Narmin were repeatedly punched in the head. They hit Sevgi against the wall.’

‘The police said to us: “you are a whore, Sevinj died because of you, her husband killed her because she joined you — the feminists”.’

Ali said her camera was also damaged when police pushed it to the ground.

The journalists and activists were later released without charge.

The Azerbaijani Interior Ministry has denied the allegations. ‘It’s not true. It is completely unfounded. The allegations they make on social media, such as being subjected to any form of pressure, such as physical pressure, is nonsense’, spokesperson Elshad Hajiyev told RFE/RL.

‘Once again, I realised which country I live in’, Ulviyya Ali told OC Media. ‘Even if something worse happens to us at the police station, no one will be punished for it. At least I was convinced after Elshad Hajiyev's statement.’

Emin Huseynov, the chair of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, an Azerbaijani press freedom watchdog, condemned the police’s actions and their reaction. 

‘The statement of the Interior Ministry is not surprising’, Huseynov told OC Media.’ 

‘Even the Human Rights Commissioner’s Office, the most independent body in the history of Azerbaijan’s independence, has never made any statement about police violence. If the most independent body does not confirm such police violence, the police will certainly never accept their actions.’ 

'Therefore, the statement of the police that “there was no violence” is not surprising, but as ridiculous and sad as ever.’

‘The beating and harassment of female journalists and activists at the police station runs counter to Azerbaijan’s commitments to the Council of Europe and the United Nations’, Huseynov said.

‘Information and reports on these and other violations have been provided to international organisations.’ 

‘With the help of lawyers and human rights defenders, violations should be recorded, acted on, and expert opinions should be documented without delay in connection with all violations. Although these steps will be ineffective in the country, they will result in fair decisions by the European Court of Human Rights.’

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