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Azerbaijani Opposition Rallies Against Crackdown

  • RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

Thousands of opposition supporters have protested against the Azerbaijani government, demanding the release of "political prisoners" in the oil-producing nation and calling for an end to President Ilham Aliyev's 11-year rule.

When the crowd defied police by chanting for Aliyev's resignation, power was cut to prevent speakers from using microphones to address the rally at Mahsul Stadium in Baku.

The November 9 protest was organized by the National Council of Democratic Forces of Azerbaijan (NCDC), a pro-democracy movement.

Speakers addressed the crowd from a stage that displayed pictures of detained or jailed rights activists, independent journalists, and opposition politicians with the words "Free Political Prisoners" written on a banner.

NCDC Chairman Camil Hasanli told demonstrators that no other country in the world has as many political prisoners as Azerbaijan today.

Hasanli called out the names of some of those that government opponents and rights groups consider political prisoners, starting with activists "Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus" -- a married couple being held separately in pretrial detention on charges of treason and other crimes, which the couple and their supporters say are politically motivated.

Hasanli also named Intiqam Aliyev, a lawyer who has represented dozens of Azerbaijanis who filed cases with the European Court of Human Rights; rights activist Rasul Cafarov; the deputy leader of the opposition Musavat (Equality) Party, Tofiq Yagublu; and the head of the opposition Republican Alternative Party Ilqar Mammadov.

All are being held on charges that they and their supporters claim are politically motivated.

ALSO READ: Profile Of Jailed Azerbaijani Activists Leyla And Arif Yunus

Police asked organizers not to call for the resignation of Aliyev, who was groomed for the presidency by his long-ruling father, the late Heydar Aliyev, and has been in power since 2003.

When the crowd started to chant "Aliyev Resign!" power was cut so that speakers on stage could not use microphones to address the gathering.

NCDC member Fuad Gahramali said he told police ahead of the rally, "We can’t tell people what to chant."

Ali Kerimli, chairman of the Popular Front Party, called on the international community not to close its eyes to political repression in Azerbaijan.

"Stop working with dictators. Stop supporting the criminal regime!" Kerimli said.

The rally was held as a reminder of opposition demands for changes in the electoral system to ensure that Azerbaijan's next parliamentary election, scheduled for November 2015, is free and fair.

The NCDC estimated that some 7,000 people turned out for the rally. Police said the number was far lower.