HRW slams Azerbaijan's relentless crackdown on opposition

HRW slams Azerbaijan's relentless crackdown on opposition

PanARMENIAN.Net - Azerbaijani authorities arrested numerous opposition activists and leaders on spurious criminal charges following a July 14, 2020 unsanctioned rally in Baku, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, August 19.

Thousands of people gathered that day to support the country’s armed forces amid an escalation of military tensions with neighboring Armenia. The charges range from violating lockdown rules related to the Covid-19 pandemic to destruction of property and an attempted coup.

Late on the evening of July 14, a small group of protest participants briefly broke into the parliament building and damaged property before police removed them. The authorities claimed it was an attempt masterminded by the political opposition to violently overthrow the government, and rounded up dozens of activists over the following days.

“The latest wave of arrests in Azerbaijan follows the well-documented pattern of politically motivated arrests and prosecutions and threatens to decimate one of the country’s oldest opposition parties,” said Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately end the crackdown, release those unjustly imprisoned, and investigate law enforcement’s conduct.”

Human Rights Watch spoke with 11 lawyers and reviewed the court documents of 10 people detained since July 15 and the authorities’ official statements.

The arrests followed a nationally televised speech by President Ilham Aliyev, accusing the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) of instigating the violence, calling them “traitors,” “enemies,” and the “fifth column” and promising to “resolve” the issue.

Following minor clashes between a small group of the rally participants and the police outside parliament, police violently dispersed the crowd, using teargas, water cannons, and rubber bullets. According to an official statement, at least seven police officers were injured, and 16 cars damaged, two of them destroyed.

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