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The imprisonment of the democratic movement in Azerbaijan

In the second part of a series of articles on the breakdown of Azerbaijani civil society, Azerbaijani democracy activist Ahmad Mammadli writes about mass arrests of the democratic movement.

For the past three years in Azerbaijan (after the Second Karabakh War), articles about those imprisoned will be divided into three parts: the arrests of religious people, the arrests against political organizations and civil society, and the arrests faced by those who were deported to Azerbaijan when they returned from abroad.

Read the first part here.

PART II – The imprisonment of the democratic movement

Continuing from the first part of the article, in this second part, I will talk about the pressures faced by members of political organizations and civil society in Azerbaijan.

After the Karabakh war in 2020, the first target was to erase the name “Republic” from the country’s political history. President Ilham Aliyev attempted to eliminate the day dedicated to the first democratic republic established in Azerbaijan’s history in 1918 and in the Muslim East.

In response to this, on October 13, 2021, the Democracy 1918 Movement (where I was President at the time), the Nida Civic Movement, and independent public and political activists organized a protest action against the ruling New Azerbaijan Party.

A few minutes after the start of the action, it was forcefully dispersed by the police, and the activists were detained for nearly 8 hours and subjected to violence and mistreatment.

Elmir Abbasov, an activist of the Nida Civic Movement, was also arrested administratively for 30 days. In general, according to reports from non-governmental organizations in Azerbaijan, 58 people were administratively arrested for their public and political activities in 2020, and 30 people were administratively arrested in 2021.

Of course, this statistic is minimal. It is very difficult to monitor the arrests of religious communities, as their families do not disclose information about it, and they do not talk about it themselves, especially in the regions where they are arrested.

I deliberately do not use the concepts of “government” and “authority,” because in Azerbaijan, the government, parliament, and court authority have been combined under the control of one group, therefore, such a group, although without it, represents the entire state, as society does not participate in the formation of the state.

As I mentioned in the first part of the article, in May 14, 2022, the chants of more than 500 civil and political activists saying “We don’t want a criminal state!” and “We don’t want a mafia state!” intensified the state and were used as an excuse for the next wave of arrests.

On July 20, an action against the closure of the country’s land borders was held in front of the Cabinet of Ministers building, and it was dispersed, leading to the 30-day arrest of Aziz Mamiyev, an activist of the Musavat party. On July 26, another activist of the party, Alikram Khurshidov, was arrested for 30 days after being beaten.

Now a new wave of arrests has started…

After the arrest of religious figures in May 2022, members of political organizations also faced pressures. In September 2022, I (Ahmed Mammadli) was arrested for 30 days for opposing the military clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Later, I was charged with fabricated accusations, and I was banned from leaving the country. In November 2022, Afiaddin Mammadov, who is engaged in establishing trade unions and the Courier Union of this alliance, was arrested for 30 days.

In December 2022, social activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who was detained and tortured several times, was arrested on ridiculous charges and a criminal case was opened against him, leading to his imprisonment.

Initially, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev’s public defense was carried out very well, and an action was held for his release. During this demonstration, known oppositionist and member of the Müsavat party, Tofig Yagublu, was arrested for 30 days.

In early February 2023, Elizamin Salayev, a member of the Azerbaijan People’s Front Party, who had previously been imprisoned, was arrested again. At the same time, activists who chanted slogans like “Freedom for Bakhtiyar Hajiyev!” and “Freedom is Bakhtiyar’s right” in protest against Bakhtiyar Hajiyev’s next trial were detained.

During this march, Samir Sultanov, a member of the Management Board of the Democracy 1918 Movement, and Secretary-General, and Afiaddin Mammadov, the leader of the Worker Desk Trade Union Confederation, were arrested for 30 days.

The images of the elderly women in Soydulu who stood up against the riot police garnered great sympathy.

“The summer crackdown”

In the summer of 2023, we saw an escalation of the crackdown of the civil society.

Following the protests of the population in the village of Soydulu in Gadabay, Elmir Abbasov, an activist of the Nida Civic Movement, political activist Giyas Ibrahim, businessman and former official from Gadabay, Nazim Baydamirli and Maharram Akbarov, a member of the “Voice of the Revolution” platform, were arrested.

Moreover, after the protests the decision of enlargement of a goldmine in the village of Soydulu, more than 10 residents of the village faced violence and arrests. The pictures from Soydulu of the old traditionally dressed women standing up against the heavily armoured police spread sympathies all over the country.

If they could resist the regime, then we all needed to support them.

The gravest arrest for many years is however the case of Gubad Ibadoghlu. He’s the chairman of the Azerbaijan Democratic and Prosperous Party, who tried to establish a student fund to expose the business networks of Ilham Aliyev and the officials serving him and to spend the funds in the country for the education of Azerbaijani youth.

Gubad Ibadoghlu was arrested in Baku’s outskirts in late July 2023, when he visited his elderly mother after he had stayed abroad for a long time.

The EU Parliament, in a resolution, has expressed the desire for the EU Commission to investigate sanctions against Azerbaijan due to the arrest of Gubad Ibadoghlu.

After this it all went fast

Three days after this incident, Elkhan Aliyev, an activist of the Azerbaijan People’s Front Party, was also arrested. Starting from August 1, the arrests against the Trade Union of Labor Solidarity Alliances Confederation began.

The leader of the Trade Union, Afiaddin Mammadov, was arrested on August 1 for 30 days and later, a fictitious criminal case was opened against him, and he was imprisoned for an indefinite period on September 20.

In the following days of August, Elvin Mustafayev and Aykhan Israfilov, activists of the Trade Union, were also beaten and arrested on charges of drug use, and all three representatives of the organization are currently in prison.

“On September 19-20, after the public activists criticized the military operations of the Azerbaijani state in Karabakh, Nemat Abbasov, Amrah Tahmazov, Emin Ibrahimov, a former diplomat, and journalists Nurlan Libre and Ruslan Vagabov were arrested. During military operations in Karabakh, public activists Rail Abbasov, Movsum Mammadov, and Ruslan Vahabov were also arrested.”

In October, Hussein Malik, a member of the Azerbaijan Democratic and Prosperous Party, Kenan Basqal and Orkhan Bakhishli, activists of the Azerbaijan People’s Front Party, were arrested.

At the same time, activist Mahaddin Orujov, who criticized the president, was also arrested. In general, more than 15 activists were arrested in September-October.

The most disappointing aspect of the issue is that there are no adequate defense opportunities against the recent wave of arrests, and those arrested don’t seem to get the same solidarity from the outside as before.

Ahmad Mammadli har flera gånger gripits för sin aktivism. Foto: privat

About the Author: Ahmad Mammadli is a political activist in Azerbaijan. He is the former president of the Social Democratic initiative Democracy 1918, which in September, just before the aggression of Nagorno-Karabakh, decided to upheld its operations due to persecution from the government.


Top picture: A collage featuring Ilham Aliyev on the left, Afiaddin Mammadov in the background, and a woman demonstrating against the political arrests in Azerbaijan.