Crackdown on Azerbaijan's "Great People's Day"

As Azerbaijanis take to the streets in protest against recent restrictions on freedom of expression, the government has clamped down on activists and those using social media to organise the demonstrations. Today has been dubbed “The Great People’s Day” by protest organisers, who launched a Facebook page to publicise the event. There have been widespread reports of arrests, with the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs reporting that 43 persons were detained. Many were given warnings and released; other cases were sent to the courts.

In a week when Council of Europe ministers discussed the case of Eynulla Fatullayev, the investigative journalist who has been wrongfully imprisoned for close to four years, the Azerbaijani government has once again demonstrated its absolute refusal to tolerate criticism. Youth activist Rashadat Akhundov and opposition activist Sakhavat Soltanli were arrested on 8 March, charged with public order and “hooliganism” offences. Both insist the charges against them are fabricated. On 4 March, prominent blogger and activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was arrested, accused of evading military service. He could face up to two years’ imprisonment.

Opposition activist Dayanat Babayev was also arrested on 4 March. This follows the arrest in February of Jabbar Savalan, who called for a “day of rage” on his Facebook page. He was arrested on spurious drugs charges.

It was reported on Thursday night that the Human Rights House in Baku had been closed down, accused of not being properly registered.

Today human rights organisations hosted a discussion of the situation in Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus, to coincide with the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. The event was supported by Index on Censorship.

Last week, representatives of Index on Censorship, ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Azerbaijan’s Media Rights Institute traveled to Strasbourg, appealing to ministers to place Azerbaijan at the centre of its human rights agenda and calling for the immediate release of Eynulla Fatullayev. The government’s refusal to uphold an April 2010 European Court of Human Rights decision ruling that Fatullayev should be released has met with international condemnation.