Azerbaijan: Brutal use of force against peaceful protesters

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October was a critical month in Azerbaijan in terms of domestic policy. In late October, two rallies were held against the lack of democracy and violence against women. These protests were followed by personnel and structural changes in the government. Baku hosted the second International E-Trade Forum which brought together different government bodies, SMEs, and startups. Furthermore, government representatives and journalists of almost 60 states came together for the 18th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Baku. 


What is happening?

On October 19, National Council of Democratic Forces in Azerbaijan held unsanctioned demonstrations against low salaries, corruption, and anti-democratic practices in the city centre. Initially Baku City Main Police Department offered to hold the rally in Lokbatan area; however, since Lokbatan settlement is far away from the city, the Council refused the offer. 

Before the protest, three metro stations were temporarily shut down to prevent people from joining the rally, and during the protests, the internet connection was weakened or cut off in some areas to prevent people from sharing live videos. 

Protesters were shouting “Freedom” and “Resignation” slogans. Hundreds of people including journalists, activists, and the Popular Front Party leader Ali Karimli were violently detained by the police. Karimli, who was released afterwards, said that some 50 organizers of the rally had been detained even before the rally began. He also mentioned that another rally has been planned for November 2. 

After the protests, the Azerbaijani government faced intense international pressure. “We call on the government to credibly investigate reports of police violence, hold accountable those responsible, and release expeditiously those who remain in detention,” said the statement released by the US Embassy in Baku. Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House stated that The brutal use of force on peaceful protesters over the weekend in Azerbaijan exemplifies the government’s unwillingness to tolerate any dissent and failure to uphold the freedoms of speech and assembly. In her statement, Dunja Miyatovic, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe mentioned that “… unsanctioned rallies were brutally dispersed by the police, which raise grave concerns about police conduct and people’s right to peaceful protest in Azerbaijan”. A public statement by Amnesty International reads that Azerbaijan remains closed to human rights scrutiny. International human rights monitors, including Amnesty International, continue to be denied access to the country”.

A day after October 19 rally, Azerbaijani women gathered to protest violence against women. The campaign had started online under the “No Violence Against Women” tag. Few participants were detained and released soon, some of who uploaded their photos showing minor injuries. After the protest, the UN released a statement calling the Azerbaijani government to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention. According to the research done by the UN, the price Azerbaijan pays for violence against women is almost 2% of the country’s GDP –  in lost economic output caused by irreversible population losses, incapacity, disability, reduced productivity of victims and the costs of providing services in response to violence.

On October 20, another scandal flared up. Audio recordings of conversations between one of the opposition activists, Gultakin Hajibeyli and two foreign diplomats were broadcasted on TV. The content of recordings was about the unauthorized rally and the general situation in the country. The leakage of audio recordings to mass media is considered to be a serious violation of the Vienna Convention; however, there have not been any officials’ comments yet.

Personnel and structural changes

Last week of October, several personnel and structural changes happened in Azerbaijan. Ramiz Mehdiyev, the head of the Presidential Administration and Ali Hasanov, Deputy Prime Minister resigned. Minister of Economy Shahin Mustafayev was appointed as deputy prime minister. The Ministry of Taxes was eliminated and joined to the Ministry of Economy along with the State Committee for Property and the Antimonopoly Agency for Supervision of the Consumer Market. The Ministry of Economy is now headed by former Minister of Taxes, Mikail Jabbarov. Some experts see these changes as an effort to renew the government; while others believe that there is a need for “real reforms”.


Baku E-Trade Forum 

In late October, Baku hosted the second International E-Trade Forum as a part of the Innovation Week. The International E-Trade Forum is an important platform to discuss the latest trends and novelties in the field of electronic trade. The covered topics included national strategies, facilitation of e-commerce, the impact of e-governance, international cooperation, cybersecurity & data protection, e-signature & trust marks, artificial intelligence, automation of robotics, blockchain etc.Azerbaijan has a favourable environment for the development of electronic trade and … our goal is to increase the share of e-commerce in the domestic market, as well as to encourage e-commerce in order to bring national products on the foreign markets,said Minister of Transport, Communications and High Technologies Ramin Guluzade.


NAM Summit 

For the first time, the capital city hosted the 18th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, which is the second-largest organization after the UN. Presidents of Iran, Algeria, Afghanistan, Namibia, Venezuela, Sudan, Cuba, Ghana, Djibouti, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan were among the participants of the summit. The motto of this year’s summit was “Upholding Bandung principles to ensure a coherent and adequate response to the challenges of the modern world”.

According to Ramiz Hasanov, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister four documents will be adopted following the summit: a document of the Baku summit; the Baku declaration; a document expressing gratitude to Azerbaijan; and a document regarding Palestine. Furthermore, the chairmanship of the structure passed from Venezuela to Azerbaijan for 2019-2022.