Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Azerbaijani authorities to release all the protesters who were detained after police violently dispersed two peaceful protests in central Baku over the weekend, and to investigate any allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement.
Police rounded up dozens of peaceful opposition and civic activists, beating and roughing them up while forcing them onto buses and into police cars, HRW said in a statement on October 22.
The New York-based human rights watchdog quoted detained opposition activists as saying they had been severely beaten in police custody.
“Once again, the Azerbaijani government has shown complete disregard for people’s right to hold peaceful protests,” said Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.
On October 19, approximately 220 people participated in a demonstration organized by the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), an umbrella group of Azerbaijani opposition groups.
The participants called for the release of political prisoners and reductions in rates for natural gas and electricity.
Police said 60 protesters were detained, 42 were released with a “warning,” and 18 cases were sent to administrative courts.
The authorities also detained at least 10 senior opposition party members ahead of the rally, including the leader of the opposition Popular Front Party, Ali Kerimli, who was released late in the evening with “several stitches on his head and multiple bruises on his face,” HRW said.
On October 20, police also dispersed some 50-60 people, mostly women, who were protesting domestic violence.
The protest area was cordoned off and several participants were rounded up, put on a bus, and released shortly thereafter.
The authorities had turned down requests to hold the two protests in central Baku.
President Ilham Aliyev has ruled the South Caucasus country of nearly 10 million since shortly before the death of his father, President Heydar Aliyev, in 2003.
Aliyev has overseen the systematic dismantling of the country's civil society. Dozens of activists, journalists, and human rights activists have been arrested and convicted on what critics say are politically motivated charges. Independent media outlets have also been shut down.