"This rally has been organized by order of the Armenian government," one of the Azerbaijani ruling party leaders believes.
On 23 September, the National Council of the Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan (NCDFA) organized yet another rally, the second one this year, at a stadium in the outskirts of Baku. The rally’s time and venue were coordinated with municipal authorities. This time the rally was held under the slogan: ‘Get the stolen money back to the people!’ ‘No to plunder!’. As a reminder, the last time the NCDFA rallied was under the slogan ‘No to family rule!’ on 8 April this year.
The protesters demanded a probe into reports of money laundering and the alleged bribing of European politicians by Azerbaijan’s ruling elite. The matter concerns funds amounting to around USD 3 billion which was illegally transferred from the country under different pretexts over the past few years and that were used for bribery and lobbying of the Azerbaijani leadership’s interests abroad.
Find more details on the journalistic investigation into Azerbaijan’s money laundering scheme in this JAMnews article.
The protesters were holding up portraits of political prisoners, as well as posters with the following slogans: ‘Where is our 3 billion?’, ‘You should rather punish the thief than the honest man!’ and ‘Money has gone offshore, while people have been left in poverty’.
According to the opposition sources, about 3 000 people participated in the protest rally. Meanwhile, the pro-governmental sources claim that the protesters made less than one third of the reported number. The official data on the actual number of protesters isn’t available yet.
“This corrupt regime that has been infringing on our rights for decades is caught in flagrante. The evidence of this corruption scheme has been produced,” Ali Kemirli, the leader of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party stated when addressing the rally participants.
Jamil Hasanli, a former presidential candidate from the National Council of the Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan, stated that ‘President Ilham Aliyev himself was at the top of the corruption scheme in Azerbaijan’.
“This government is accustomed to stealing. It has stolen the people’s right to free elections, it has stolen the people’s welfare. Finally, it has stolen journalist Afgan Mukhtarli from Tbilisi,” added Hasanli.
The day before the rally, six opposition activists, including Ilham Huseyn, a would-be host of the rally, were arrested under various pretexts and sentenced to a 15-day pretrial detention.
The Azerbaijani authorities flatly denied any accusations, saying they were disseminated by the Armenian lobbyists, as well as by George Soros, a philanthropist and businessman.
Siyavush Novruzov, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party and a member of the Milli Mejlis (Azerbaijani Parliament) termed the accusations against the authorities as ‘slander’.
“Kerimli had better report where he himself had gotten the money from. He has been unemployed for 20 years. He, however, has hired bodyguards, drives a luxury car and his children live in the USA and study at costly universities. This concerns others too. They claim that the journalists’ rights are violated in our country. Really? Then name me any other country that provides journalists with free housing? Which country finances the NGOs’ activity?” the ‘Trend’ news agency cited Novruzov as saying.
The oppositionists said that the protests would continue. The next protest rally is scheduled for 7 October.
The NCDFA was set up in 2013, the day before the presidential election in the country. Rustam Ibragimbekov, a prominent scriptwriter, was the organization’s first chairman. However, his Russian citizenship prevented him from running in the presidential race. Therefore, the organization nominated Jamil Hasanli, a historian, as its presidential candidate. According to official data, Hasanli gained 5.5% of votes in the 2015 presidential election.