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Eldar Namazov, one of the members of the Forum of Intelligentsia of Azerbaijan
BAKU -- A Forum of Intelligentsia of Azerbaijan meeting in Baku has been canceled when the hotel used as the venue said it could not host the meeting due to "technical problems," RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.
Leyla Ramazanova, sales coordinator at the Hyatt Regency's sales and marketing department, told RFE/RL that "the electricity, heating, and security systems have been damaged. Therefore we have cancelled events in this part of the hotel. We are working to resolve the problem."
Political scientist Eldar Namazov told RFE/RL the hotel's explanation for canceling the meeting is unconvincing.
"We have encountered such a situation more than once," he said. "Government officials have addressed very aggressive statements against members of the Forum of Intelligentsia. No doubt it's an attempt to silence the forum, to prevent its activity. We denounce these actions. One cannot silence or intimidate intellectuals with such pressure and illegal actions."
Nazamov said an agreement was signed with the hotel and a deposit paid to rent the room.
"The forum...will certainly find a way to hold this event. We'll inform the media about the place and time in the near future," he said.
A similar incident occurred last week during a celebration at a Baku restaurant to mark the 22nd anniversary of the opposition newspaper "Azadliq." Fifteen minutes after it started the electricity was cut off. A restaurant manager told RFE/RL he received a phone call "from above" to stop the event.
The Forum of Intelligentsia of Azerbaijan was established two years ago to promote the discussion of issues of concern to the population. It has organized three meetings this year to call for dialogue between the authorities and the public in order to defuse tensions.
At its last gathering on November 4, forum member Rafiq Aliyev expressed concern at the possibility of civil unrest. He was then removed from his post at the Azerbaijan Oil Academy a few days later.
In a statement posted on the website of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP) (), YAP Executive Secretary Ali Ahmadov described the forum as "a club of frustrated intelligentsia." He added that they are motivated primarily by "unfulfilled personal aspirations."
"Someone wants to solve their problems so [he/she] gathers a group of people around him and tries to carve out a niche for himself in society," Ahmadov said. "Sooner or later people will understand how they have been deceived."
Ahmadov said that "on the one hand, the members of the [Forum of Intelligentsia of Azerbaijan] say they are not engaged in politics, but on the other hand, they issue political statements and behave like political figures."
He added that "I don't mean that the intelligentsia should not express opinions about what is happening in the country...[but] before criticizing something in Azerbaijan, one should admit that huge development and positive changes [have taken place]. Everybody -- the critics themselves and their children -- are part of this development and positive changes."

Read more in Azeri here
Yasar Bagirsoy says his brother is being targetted because of both of their political activities.
BAKU -- The relatives of an Azerbaijani opposition member who was remanded in custody for three months say he has now been hospitalized after allegedly being tortured, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Zeynal Bagirzade, a member of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party's (AXCP) Naxcivan branch, was ordered on December 27 to be kept by police in pretrial detention on charges of faking his disability and stealing from the state.

Yasar Bagirsoy, his brother and the acting head of the AXCP's Naxcivan branch, told RFE/RL that Bagirzade was taken to the Justice Ministry's isolation ward, where he was physically abused and tortured.

"I have information that he was in critical condition" before being taken to the hospital, Bagirsoy said. "He was tortured one day after he was brought to the ward. He has now been placed in the Naxcivan Diagnostics Center...[and is] in a very critical state."

Bagirsoy said doctors had diagnosed Bagirzade as having a stomach ailment, but that that was only being used as a pretext to cover up the beating he endured.

"I was beside him during the trial...I sent him to the prison ward safe and sound," Bagirsoy said. "He had no problems. Zeynal has, in general, never complained about his stomach. [I think] he was heavily tortured."

Bagirsoy said Bagirzade's relatives were not being allowed to see him and charged that a political order was given for his brother's arrest and abusive treatment in detention.

"Local authorities had warned us more than once to give up our political activities," Bagirsoy said. "We refused. Now they are extracting revenge on us [by arresting and beating] my brother."

The Naxcivan Justice Ministry did not comment on the issue.

The Naxcivan Diagnostics Center told RFE/RL that Bagirzade was brought to the hospital but returned to prison, as he was not found to be suffering from any sickness.

But Bagirsoy said his brother was still in the hospital and had not been returned to the prison. "Our relatives are being moved away from the hospital," he said. "Now they are waiting outside. We have no information about Zeynal."

Bagirzade was charged with abuse of authority, using false documents, and inflicting financial damage on the state in connection with accusations that he faked a disability in order to collect benefits given to handicapped people.

If found guilty of those charges he could be imprisoned for between one and 12 years.

Read more in Azeri here

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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