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Two Activists, Including NDI Employee, Detained In Baku

Rashad Hasanov was one of two activists arrested in Baku on March 14.
Two Azerbaijani activists, including an employee of a U.S. government-funded civil society organization, were detained by authorities in Baku on March 14.

Supporters said the arrests were politically motivated.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports that plainclothes police arrested Rashad Hasanov, a member of the Nida citizens' movement, and Ruslan Asad, a member of the OL youth movement and program officer at the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute's (NDI) Baku office.

The activists were brought in for questioning at the Grave Crimes Investigation Department at the Prosecutor-General's office.

Asad was soon released. Hasanov remains in custody.

The reason for their detention was not immediately clear.

Three Nida activists were arrested ahead of an unsanctioned rally in the Azerbaijani capital on March 10 to protest the hazing and abuse of military conscripts.

Authorities charged the three activists with possession of Molotov cocktails and drugs and accused them of plotting a revolution in the country.

Police dispersed the rally using tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons.

The U.S. ambassador to Baku, Richard Morningstar, issued a statement on March 12 calling on the Azerbaijani government to "respect the right of peaceful protest" and "engage in a meaningful dialogue with citizens to address legitimate public concerns."

Media Accusations

Asad was among those who attended the March 10 rally. He was detained there and later released. Asad said he participated in the rally as a private citizen, not as a representative of NDI.

His most recent arrest also comes in the wake of accusations leveled in the Azerbaijani press against the U.S. NGO that employs him.

On March 10, Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev suggested in an online article that the head of NDI in Baku, Alex Grigorievs, had withdrawn $2 million from bank accounts to help fund a "Facebook revolution" in the country. The article was widely shared on pro-government media.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Grigorievs wrote, "NDI's programs are nonpartisan and the Institute seeks neither to support pro-government nor antigovernment forces in Azerbaijan."

"NDI is fully transparent in reporting all of its expenditures and activities to the government of Azerbaijan and is fully compliant with local laws. Suggestions that NDI is involved in any other activities are completely false," the statement said.

NDI's Washington office declined to comment on the detention of Asad when asked by RFE/RL.

The organization's website says its Baku office has been in operation since 1995.

It said, "Past and current NDI programs have focused on strengthening civil society, increasing women’s and youth participation, helping political parties develop, and safeguarding elections."

The NGO says its work in the country is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, a pro-democracy group funded by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the U.S. State Department.

The Azerbaijani government forced NDI to close in March 2011 after Baku implemented new rules for registering NGOs in the country.

It reopened in September of that year.