Human Rights Watch (HRW) says authorities in Azerbaijan are using bogus drug-possession charges to arrest government critics.
The right watchdog said in a statement
on May 27 that four activists -- Rashad Ramazanov, Taleh Bagirov, Dashgin Malikov, and Mahammad Azizov -- have been arrested in separate cases since March.
HRW said in each of four cases, drug-possession charges were based on a small amount of narcotics allegedly found by the police following the arrests.
The detainees’ lawyers said none of the accused uses drugs.
"Using bogus drug possession charges to silence critical voices is not new, but the latest cases are part of an intensified government campaign against its critics as elections grow near," the group quotes its senior South Caucasus researcher Giorgi Gogia as saying. "These arrests and beatings send a very clear message to anyone who wants to engage in serious activism."
HRW says Azerbaijani authorities over the past two years have arrested dozens of activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, accusing them of drug or weapons possession, hooliganism, or disturbance of public order.
HRW says the government crackdown has intensified as the country’s presidential election on October draws closer.