Police in Baku have beaten and detained opposition politicians along with protesters in an attempt to disperse a demonstration held against corruption and the lack of democracy in the country.
Hundreds of opposition protesters came together in downtown in Baku calling for the resignation of President Ilham Aliyev and demanding fair and independent elections.
Opposition leader Ali Karimli, chair of Popular Front of People, told Reuters that some 50 people had already been detained the protests were held over the weekend.
“We demand our constitutional rights and freedoms to be protected,” Kerimli was quoted as saying. “We are not afraid of this government and we will fight till the end.”
According to the police, 60 people were detained during the demonstration held on Oct. 19 while the opposition say around 100 people were detained before and after Kerimli joined the rally, a move that made the protest more vibrant.
Among those detained was Kerimli, who got injuries in the head while detained for several hours in the custody. He told RFE/RL that he was severely beaten and mistreated while being held in the detention center. Several other detained opposition activists reported to Human Rights Watch about the police abuse and ill treatment in custody too.
Main streets and subway stations were closed down in order to cut off the Baku residents to easily join the rally. For few hours, internet connection was lost in the protest area. Despite the police cordon, protesters still rallied in the city center, chanting slogans calling for freedom. Plainclothes officials and police officers were involved in restraining protesters, dragging to waiting police cars and busses.
A day after the crackdown, European politicians and international organizations criticized the Azerbaijani government for the blatant brutality and calling for Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to suspend negotiations over the new agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan until the government respects the fundamental human rights in the country.
EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Maya Kociancic said in a statement that “excessive and unprovoked force was reportedly used to disperse the crowds and arrest participants.”
“Once again, the Azerbaijani government has shown complete disregard for people’s right to hold peaceful protests,” said Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately release all protesters and investigate any allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement.”
Leyla Abdullayeva, the spokesperson for Azerbaijani Minister of Foreign Affairs, said it was not true that dozens of people were detained.
"Most of the protesters were released after an official warning,” she said, adding that police were polite and nobody was injured.
The authorities detained at least 10 senior opposition party members, including former political prisoner and journalist Seymur Hezi, ahead of the October 19 rally. A day later, tens of women’s rights activists held a protest over domestic violence against women in Baku, which also ended with police brutality and detention in custody.