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Azerbaijani Police Detain Dozens Of Opposition Protesters

  • RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

BAKU -- Police in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, have scuffled with opposition demonstrators who staged a protest calling for greater media freedom.

The opposition has pledged to stage demonstrations this week as Baku hosts the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in an effort to draw international attention to alleged human rights abuses.

Some 30 demonstrators attempted to gather outside Baku's public television center, but police quickly rounded them up and forced most of them into waiting cars.

All the detainees were released later in the day, with eight of them being fined for disturbing public order.

Demonstrators were holding signs calling for public television to give airtime to the political opposition.

"[The authorities] think their actions will have no response," said Arife Huseynli, an activist of the opposition Musavat party who was detained and released. "First of all, we want free elections. Let [President] Ilham Aliyev and parliament deputies be elected, but in a democratic way. Why do they occupy posts without elections?"

A spokesman for the opposition Public Chamber of Azerbaijan said two movement leaders -- Gulaga Aslanli and Tofiq Yaqublu -- were detained early in the morning by police, apparently to prevent them from taking part in the protest. They were later given small fines and released.

The deputy head of the Popular Front party, Gozel Bayramli, was also reportedly detained briefly and released.

The head of Azerbaijan Public Television, Ismayil Omerov, told RFE/RL that his station had never broken the law and that policies would not change as a result of the May 24 protest.

"Everybody has big wishes, but why stage a picket or a protest because of these wishes?" Omerov asked. "I know they want to make use of [international attention]. Until Azerbaijan became the winner of Eurovision, the international media had no news about the opposition's existence. Public television greatly helped the opposition in this context. Now they are agitating around this topic and putting forward claims to speak on public television."

According to Human Rights Watch, at least five journalists and two bloggers are in Azerbaijani jails because of their journalistic activity.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry announced that Anar Gerayli, a journalist for the Gunxeber.com website and an activist of the NIDA youth movement, was sentenced on May 23 to 10 days in jail for "gross violations of public rules."

Geryali disappeared on May 22 after last being seen handing out NIDA literature while wearing a shirt reading "Sing for democracy."

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