The leader of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party and seven others were fined up to $1,450 on charges of participating in an unauthorized march
The Chairman of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP) Ali Karimli, the leader of the National Council opposition coalition and former presidential candidate Jamil Hasanli, as well as 50 other activists who were arrested on 17 November, have been released.
All of them were accused of participating in an “unauthorised procession”. The court fined eight people, including Karimli, between $235 to $1,450. The remaining activists were given an administrative warning.
By “unauthorised procession”, the authorities were referring to an attempt to lay down flowers on the graves of victims of the Soviet intervention and the Karabakh war who were buried in Baku’s Alley of Martyrs. The commemoration took place on the 30th anniversary of the Day of National Revival.
The Day of National Revival (17 November) has been celebrated in Azerbaijan since 1992. On this day in 1988, the national Meydan (Az. square) movement began. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the main square of Baku, demanding that the authorities take a more active part in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The round-the-clock rally lasted for 19 days and was dispersed by Soviet troops on 5 December 1988. About 400 activists of the Meydan movement were arrested at the time. The movement is considered to be an important stage in the national struggle of Azerbaijan for independence from the USSR.
Opposition activists went to the Alley of Martyrs on 17 November but were stopped by the police. About 50 people were arrested, including Ali Karimli and the head of the National Council of Democratic Forces, Jamil Hasanli.
Popular Front activists approached the police building in the Sabail district of Baku and demanded the release of their fellow party members. Later the same day, most of the detainees were released.
Hasanli was the last to be released and said that he and Karimli had been asked to write an explanatory letter to the police, but both of them refused to do so without lawyers present.
“There was no interrogation. We were just sitting, and the police officers were waiting for something,” Hasanli said, describing his stay at the police station. In response to the accusation that they were conducting their march illegally, the detainees replied that it was not a political march, and that they just wanted to lay down flowers on the graves of the fallen heroes in honour of the holiday. As a result, almost all the detainees were released that evening, except for Ali Karimli and his seven companions.
Consequences of the detention
Karimli’s exact whereabouts were unknown for almost a day. It was known that they had been charged under Article 513.2 of the administrative code – participating in an illegal march.
Karimli had also been charged with violating the rules for organising and conducting meetings, rallies, demonstrations and street processions. On the morning of 19 November, the court ruled that Karimli had to pay an administrative fine and be released.
Several hundred APFP activists were waiting for Karimli at the court building.
“I invited you to take part in laying flowers on the graves of those who started fighting for the independence of the country. Thank you for your response. However, the authorities were afraid of this and decided to arrest us. Nobody has the right to forbid citizens from remembering heroes,” Karimli said.
He further said that the court argued in favor of the detention of the marchers based on the fact that foreign tourists were going to visit the Alley of Martyrs. The opposition called this rationale “mockery and stupidity”.
Why the authorities reacted like this
“The Azerbaijani opposition, unfortunately, has been placed in a situation where it has to use holiday dates to remind people of its existence,” says political commentator Shahin Rzayev.
“On 28 May this year, on the day of the 100th anniversary of the independence of the First Azerbaijan Republic, another opposition party, Republican Alternative, held a march and laid flowers at the monument to the founders of the ADR. Then one of the leaders, Azer Qasimli, was also arrested and sentenced to a month in prison on a false accusation. Why don’t the authorities create normal conditions for opposition activists? Apparently, they are afraid of letting the “genie out of the bottle” and losing control over the movement.”