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Six Azerbaijani Oppositionists Jailed Over April Protest

The opposition protest in Baku on April 2

The opposition protest in Baku on April 2

BAKU -- Six Azerbaijani opposition activists have been jailed for up to three years over an antigovernment protest in Baku four months ago that was broken up by police, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.
The six have received prison terms ranging from 11/2 to three years on charges of "organizing actions resulting in the violation of public order and resisting and using force against government officials."
Zulfuqar Eyvazli and Babak Hasanov were jailed for 18 months; Sahib Karimov and Elshan Hasanov for two years; Elnur Israfilov for 2 1/2 years; and Arif Alishli for three years.
Dozens of activists were detained as they tried to stage the April 2 protest, which was organized by the opposition Public Chamber.
The trial of eight other protest participants is still going on. All reject the charges against them as politically motivated.
An RFE/RL correspondent reported from the court room on August 25 that the defendants' relatives sang the Azerbaijani anthem to protest the verdict.
Over 200 people outside the court chanted "Freedom!" and -- referring to President Ilham Aliyev -- "Ilham, resign!" They tried to block the road in front of the court, but were prevented by police.
Arif Alishli told the court on August 24 the protesters were arrested while bribe-takers remain at large.
"President Aliyev stated that people should fight corruption. I chanted the slogan 'No to corruption!' at the protest and wanted to help the president. Our arrest means the president was not sincere in his statement, I was deceived," Alishli said.
Zulfuqar Eyvazli testified on August 24 that police told him he would be released if he resigned from the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) of which he is a member.
"I am ready to serve a 20-year jail term, but would never act against my companions," he said.
APFP Chairman Ali Karimli told RFE/RL the court decision proves once again there are no independent courts in Azerbaijan:
"The courts have become punishment tools of the executive branch. The courts carry out orders from the government and function as the authoritarian regime's repressive machine. I have followed the trial closely. The trial did not prove the guilt of any of the six activists. The regime has decided to intimidate and punish them," Karimli said.
Yaver Huseynli, a lawyer representing Karimli's advisor Sahib Karimov, told RFE/RL he is not surprised by the court decision:
"We were expecting the unsubstantiated criminal case to end in an unfair ruling. It was a case conducted purely on a political order. I don't see anything surprising here. I didn't even ask the court for acquittal because I knew the court would never do that."

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