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Azerbaijan police avert protest with crackdown

February 16, 2020

Police in Azerbaijan detained opposition leaders and rounded up would-be protesters arriving at a Baku site to demonstrate against disputed election results. Some of the politicians were picked up elsewhere in the city.

Police in Azerbaijan in October 2019
Image: Reuters/A. Karimov

Dozens of protesters were detained by Azerbaijani riot police in front of the Baku headquarters of the central election commission on Sunday.

Critics of the country's long-ruling strongman Ilham Aliyev had intended to decry the victory of his party in last week's parliamentary election, which international observers say was riddled with irregularities.

However, police intercepted incoming protesters and loaded them onto buses, according to a Reuters witness at the scene.

Some of the would-be participants held up signs saying "Abolish election results!" or "We demand free elections!" amid the crackdown. Separately, police detained at least three opposition leaders, including REAL party head Ilgar Mamedly, Musavat Party chief Arif Hajili, and the leader of the D18 opposition movement, Ruslan Izzetly. Other opposition candidates and election observers were also detained, according to a statement from the Musavat Party. Some of the politicians were picked up near their homes or the headquarters of their respective parties.

'Abandoned' outside Baku

It was not immediately clear how many were still in police custody. Musavat leader Hajili spoke to the Agence France-Presse news agency after he was freed, saying that some of the detainees were "taken in police vans to remote, deserted places 200-300 kilometers (120-180 miles) from the capital, Baku, and abandoned there" on Sunday.

The latest crackdown comes just days after police violently removed protesters from the same location. Reporters Without Borders said around seven journalists were "arrested and beaten" when the country's special forces broke up a sit-in at the electoral commission on Tuesday.

The ruling party won 72 seats in the 125-strong assembly, with Aliyev's allies controlling most of the remaining seats.

Azerbaijan, a former Soviet state of some 10 million people, plays an important role in supplying oil and gas to Europe. The nation's political life is almost entirely controlled by President Aliyev, who took power from his father in 2003. Many believe the 58-year-old  intends to hand over power to his children. In 2017, Aliyev made his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, the country's first vice president.

dj/nm (AFP, Reuters)

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