Human Rights House Foundation

United Kingdom

Image: Zaur Gurbanli, Azeri blogger 

International organisations condemn detention of youth activist in Azerbaijan

ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship are concerned about the arrest of Zaur Gurbanli, an activist with the N!DA Civic Movement and the Positive Change Youth Movement.

Tuesday, 09 October 2012, by HRH London, based on Article 19, Reporters Without Borders and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty articles.

The young activist is now serving a 15-day administrative sentence for allegedly resisting the police officers when arrested.

The well-known 25-year-old blogger and opposition activist Gurbanli, below, was detained by members of the Azerbaijiani Interior Ministry’s Central Unit Against Organised Crime outside his apartment in the capital Baku on 29 September.

Detained and held incommunicado for 48 hours
Gurbanli’s apartment and offices were searched in his presence, but without a search warrant, and then the activist was transferred to an unknown location. Thereafter, he was held incommunicado for 48 hours in an unknown location, without being allowed access to a lawyer or his family and without any official explanation for his arrest

Only on 1 October the Interior Ministry’s press office announced that he had been placed under administrative detention for 15 days pending trial on a charge of refusing to cooperate with the police investigation into drug trafficking.

However, it appears that no charges have been brought with regard to these allegations. Instead, Gurbanli was sentenced in a closed hearing by Absheron Regional Court to 15 days administrative detention under Article 19 310.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences for deliberately resisting to obey lawful demands of on-duty police officers.

It was also claimed by the authorities that illegal documents and other materials had been found at his workplace. The nature of those documents was not specified.

Political activism the reason for arrest
At a press conference held on 1 October, after Gurbanli’s sentencing, representatives of N!DA stated that they believed his activism was the real motivation behind his arrest.

"The authorities are trying to frighten youth organisations, [even those] which are not political party affiliates, to combat them", said Turqut Qambar, a N!DA representative. "The authorities want to frighten this independent sector", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty informs.

Zaur Gurbanli’s arrest is the latest in a series of obviously politically motivated arrests over the last few months. Particularly targeted are those, like Gurbanli, who were critical of the authorities in the build up to, and during, the Eurovision Song Contest, hosted by Azerbaijan in May this year.

Gurbanli was part of the Sing for Democracy movement, which used the contest as an opportunity to highlight human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The movement’s campaign persuaded this year’s Eurovision winner, Loreen, to condemn rights abuses in this country.

Blogger critical of the government
Gurbanli has written many articles critical of the government and, in one recent blog entry, wrote that it was "ridiculous" and "shameful" that a school anthology of Azerbaijani literature included a poem by Leyla Alieva, the president’s daughter.

"This is the poetry of the daughter of the dictator Ilham Aliyev. Look what we are coming to. This is the method of poisoning our children. We should protest as much as we can", Gurbanli wrote of the poem.

Gurbanli also helped to organise a leaflet campaign calling on Azerbaijanis to vote Aliyev out of office in the next year's presidential election. The leaflet, from the youth opposition group N!DA, where Gurbanli is a board member, features a silhouette of Aliyev in profile and the words, "I will go in 2013 if you join N!DA".

After arresting Gurbanli, the police took him with them when they searched the headquarters of the Positive Change youth movement and seized about 8,000 copies of the leaflet.

Immediate release demanded
International human rights organisations condemn the Azerbaijani authorities’ ongoing attempts to silence those who criticise the government and/or support political change. They also demand the immediate and unconditional release of the young activist.

ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship recommend that the Azerbaijani authorities immediately take the following action:

- Carry out a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into Gurbanli’s incommunicado detention and hold those responsible to account;
- Make public the evidence supporting its charge against Zaur Gurbanli;
- Ensure Azerbaijan upholds international standards regarding the right to freedom of expression and right to freedom of information and that these rights are respected and guaranteed for all its citizens.

Crackdown ahead of the next year's election
The Gurbanli‘s arrest recalls earlier crackdowns on bloggers in Azerbaijan who dared to criticise the government. His fellow activist Mehman Huseynov was arrested in June 2012 on charges of hooliganism. Although later released from pre-trial detention, he remains under investigation.

In 2009, authorities sentenced Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade to terms of two years, and two years and six months respectively on charges that they had started a brawl in a restaurant.

The cases of the two men – who came to be known as the "donkey bloggers" – caused an international outcry because both were convicted after satirising the government with an Internet video showing a donkey giving a press conference.

Both men were released early in November 2010 after spending 17 months in prison.

According to ARTICLE 19 information, there are currently seven imprisoned journalists/human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, a further six are held in pre-trial detention, and two, including Huseynov, have been charged but not detained.

Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 179 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

HRH London, based on Article 19, Reporters Without Borders and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty articles.

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