Azerbaijan: Demand for the immediate release of jailed protesters
|Publication Date||27 October 2012|
|Cite as||Article 19, Azerbaijan: Demand for the immediate release of jailed protesters, 27 October 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/509a2f852.html [accessed 24 July 2014]|
A week on from a peaceful protest against government corruption in Baku in which 70 people were arrested, ARTICLE 19 is demanding the immediate release of the 13 protesters who remain behind bars. The Azerbaijani authorities must drop all charges and all penalties against those who were protesting. ARTICLE 19 is also urging the Parliament to reject plans to increase the severity of sanctions for taking part in 'unauthorised' protests. The right to peaceful protest is a vital part of freedom of expression and must be protected.
"It's outrageous that 70 people who were protesting peacefully about government corruption were arrested and that 13 remain in jail a week on" said ARTICLE 19 Executive Director Agnes Callamard.
"The right to freedom of expression is already routinely violated in Azerbaijan, including by arbitrary and disproportionate restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Proposing further restrictive measures is a kneejerk response to the protests last weekend and prioritises silencing opposition over protecting fundamental human rights. Attempts to restrict peaceful protest are a direct attack on freedom of expression and must not be tolerated" she added.
Last Saturday's protest was sparked by reports that Azerbaijani MP Guler Ahmedova allegedly offered to sell parliamentary seats for 100 million USD in a secretly filmed video uploaded to YouTube.
"They should be investigating the sale of seats in Azerbaijani parliament for millions of dollars. That sounds like a crime to me. Peaceful protest against such corruption is not a crime as far as I am concerned. Their priorities are all wrong" said Emin Milli, Azerbaijani writer, who was imprisoned for his critical views of the government.
Breach of international standards:
Opposition activists applied for permission to hold an anti-corruption rally on Fountain Square in central Baku on Saturday 20 October. The Baku authorities responded by saying that the protest would only be allowed in the Bibi Heybat Stadium, more than 8 km away from central Baku in the outskirts of the city. The authorities cited 'obstruction to leisure activities' as the reason for their decision.
ARTICLE 19 considers that it was not necessary for the authorities to change the location of the demonstration. The European Court of Human Rights have stated that prior-authorisation procedures for assemblies are only compatible with the right to freedom of peaceful assembly where the purpose is to allow the authorities to take reasonable and appropriate measures to guarantee the smooth conduct of any assembly. While the state may take action to preserve the public order, they are expected to show tolerance towards peaceful gatherings in public places even where disruption may be caused to ordinary life.
ARTICLE 19 considers the Baku authorities breached the right to freedom of peaceful assembly by their decision to move the location of the assembly to a remote venue without reasonable justification. Even with reasonable justification, the authorities should have offered a reasonable alternative location in central Baku.
Over 200 activists defied the municipal order last Saturday by gathering at Fountain Square to peacefully draw attention to claims of government corruption. 70 protestors were arrested. Some were released with fines or warnings, but 13 leading activists from the Musavat party, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, the NIDA Civic Movement, and the Free Youth (Azad G?nclik) organisation are still being held in the Binegedy temporary detention facility.
Those detained are being held for 7-10 days on charges of 'disobeying police orders' and attending an 'unsanctioned protest'.
ARTICLE 19 considers this detention of peaceful demonstrators was both arbitrary and disproportionate. Even where a protest is not authorised, it is a violation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly to arbitrarily detain a person who poses no imminent threat to public order. The authorities further disregarded the principle of proportionality by detaining people engaged in political speech, which is something that receives heightened protection under international human rights standards on freedom of expression.
"The right to freedom of expression protects not only the substance of ideas and information, but the form that they take and how they are expressed. The rights to peaceful assembly and association are essential for freedom of expression and must protected" said ARTICLE 19 Executive Director Agnes Callamard.
Plans to increase punishment:
On 23 October (Tuesday), Milli Majilis (the Legal Policy and State Construction Committee) submitted proposed amendments to the Azerbaijani Parliament to increase available punishment for unauthorised protests.
Under the amendments to Article 298 of the Code of Administrative Offences, individual organisers of unsanctioned protests could be fined up to 3000 AZN (3800 USD, 2400 GBP), they could face up to 240 hours of community service or 15 days administrative arrest. Participants could also be fined up to 1000 AZN, receive up to 200 hours of community service, or be issued with 15 days administrative arrest.
Under the amendments to the Criminal Code, those who violate the rules of the rallies may be fined from 5,000 AZN to 8,000 AZN, or sentenced to hard labour for two years, or imprisonment of up to two years.
The committee meets twice a month, and could adopt the draft law at its first hearing. It would be a clear violation of international human rights guarantees if these penalties were applied retrospectively to any offences occurring before their adoption.
ARTICLE 19 is further concerned that these increased sanctions will be used to disproportionately restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the future.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to release the 13 detained protestors immediately: Tural Abbasli, Ahad Mammadli, Vagif Khaligov, Shakir Abbasov, Deyanet Babayev, Rufat Hajibeyli, Tezekhan Miralamli, Abulfez Gurbanli, Behruz Hesenov, Elshad Budagov, Shahin Mirzayev, Turgut Gambar, and Ulvi Hesenli.