Azerbaijan
27.10.03
Urgent Interventions

Azerbaijan: journalists and protesters face repression during peaceful demonstrations

Case AZE 271003
Arbitrary arrests and detentions / Extrajudicial execution / Forced disappearance / Violations of personal integrity

The International Secretariat of OMCT requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Azerbaijan.

Brief description of the situation

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, a member of the OMCT network, of the mass arrests of journalists and protesters during peaceful demonstrations after recently held elections in Azerbaijan.

According to the information received, the authorities in Azerbaijan harassed, attacked, and detained dozens of peaceful protesters in Baku on October 15th and 16th, 2003.

On October 15th, presidential elections were held in which fraudulent tactics were reportedly used to ensure the election of Ilham Aliyev, the son of the previous authoritarian president, Heydar Aliyev. On the day of the election, many journalists and media workers were subjected to harassment and detention as they attempted to report on the elections. Violence was also used against thousands of opposition members, election commissions and observers. In the night after elections the police forces surrounded the headquarters of main opposition candidate Isa Qabar and attacked the people who came to complain about mass irregularities in the voting. On the afternoon of the next day, opposition protesters tried to gather in Baku for an unauthorised meeting, but were attacked by police and soldiers of Internal Forces. That provoked further clashes, and protesters were able to occupy the central Azadliq Plaza, a traditional place of meetings before today’s opposition lost power in June 1993, for short a time.

The security forces reportedly used excessive force against the protesters, including the use of rubber bullets, truncheons, police dogs and tear gas. At least one protester, Hamidaga Zahidov, was beaten to death, while hundreds of others were injured. According to official sources, 400 protesters were subjected to administrative arrest and detention, while 62 others were arrested for having committed crimes.

Journalists were also targeted during the attacks on October 15th and 16th, including 50 journalists who were beaten up, 10 journalists who were arrested, 6 journalists who were not allowed to collect information, 6 journalists whose cameras and recorders were broken, and one journalist (Azer Qarachenli from the Avropa weekly), who has gone missing. Journalists were reportedly beaten and arrested even after having identified themselves as members of the press to the security forces. A list of the journalists' identities can be found in the annex to this appeal. All of the arrested journalists including Qarachenli had been released by October 22nd. The offices of one opposition paper, the Yeni Musavat daily, were taken over by police forces on October 16th, and the staff-members were forced to leave the building.

Additionally, during the election, many election officials were forced to falsify or sign vote count protocols under duress, or under threats to their families or jobs. Across the country, some of those who resisted or refused were arrested, many of whom are members of opposition parties (namely the Musavat Party and Popular Front Party’s “classical” wing). While information is still being collected and the number of known detainees is still rising, 233 such detainees have thus far been identified (see annex for more details). There have been allegations that torture of some of these persons is currently ongoing in detention.

Human rights defenders have also been harassed in connection with their activities. The vice-chief of Baku police and the Prosecutor General have also threatened the opposition parties during speeches broadcast on television.

The International Secretariat of OMCT is gravely concerned by these attacks on peaceful demonstrators and journalists, in which disproportionate force has been used alongside arbitrary arrests in order to suppress opposition. OMCT is particularly concerned by the reported death of one protestor, Hamidaga Zahidov, as the result of police beatings, and the forced disappearance of journalist Azer Qarachenli. OMCT calls for the immediate release of all detainees who are still being held, in the absence of valid legal charges that are in line with international law. OMCT also calls on the government to launch an immediate enquiry and ensure that the perpetrators of these acts are brought to justice and that adequate reparation is provided to all persons that were injured or killed as a result of these events.

Action requested

Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan urging them to:

i. take all measures necessary to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity all persons being detained or threatened in connection with the peaceful demonstrations being held in the wake of the recent presidential elections;
ii. order the immediate release of all persons being detained in relation with these events, in the absence of legal charges that are consistent with international law and standards, or, if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times;
iii. intervene with the proper authorities to ensure that adequate medical assistance is provided as a matter of urgency to all persons who require it;
iv. ensure that all administrative and governmental authorities strictly abide by the internationally-guaranteed right to demonstrate;
v. order a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances of these events, in order to identify those responsible, bring them to trial and apply the penal and/or administrative sanctions as provided by law;
vi. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.

Addresses

· President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 19 Istiqlaliyyat St., Baku AZ1066, Azerbaijan, Fax: +994 12 92 06 25, +994 12 92 28 68, E-mail: office@apparat.gov.az, president@gov.az, root@lider.baku.az
· Prosecutor's Office, 7 Nigar Rafibeyli St., Baku, Azerbaijan, Fax: +994 12 92 06 82, +994 12 92 26 63, E-mail: prosec@azeri.com
· Minister of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijani Republic, Lt.-Gen. Ramil Usubov, Fax: + 994 12 92 45 90
· S.E. l'Ambassadeur, Rue de Lausanne 67, CH-1202, Genève, Suisse, e-mail : az.mission.unog@iprolink.ch, fax: +4122 901 18 44

Please also write to the embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country.

Geneva, October 27th, 2003

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

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