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Azerbaijani Activists Under Pressure Ahead Of Protest Day


Bakhtiyar Hajiyev
Bakhtiyar Hajiyev
BAKU -- Youth activists in Azerbaijan say they are coming under pressure over a Facebook campaign calling for a day of antigovernment protests on March 11, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The organizers of the campaign are calling March 11 the Great People's Day and want people to click their approval of the protest as well as gather in different towns and cities across Azerbaijan.

Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, one of the organizers, was arrested on March 4 and ordered held in pretrial detention for a month for violating an order not to leave the city of Ganja while previous charges of evading military service were investigated.

Hajiyev, 29, a Harvard graduate and a former parliament candidate, denies those charges and has linked his arrest to his Facebook activity, about which he was questioned by police earlier on March 4.

Elchin Namazov, a lawyer for Hajiyev, told RFE/RL today that they have appealed the court decision ordering his detention and that his client ended a hunger strike pending a decision by the Court of Appeals.

In a letter to his friends, Hajiyev wrote that he had been beaten several times in the detention center and threatened with being "dishonored."

In a separate incident, independent photographer Mehman Huseynov wrote on his Facebook page that he was questioned by police today about the March 11 campaign.

And, a youth activist who distributed leaflets about the March 11 campaign on Sunday March 6 said he was visited by police today.

Etibar Salmanli told RFE/RL a policeman came to his home in Bulbule, on the outskirts of Baku, saying "he had harassed a woman" -- though an Interior Ministry official, Orkhan Mansurzadeh, denied such a visit had taken place.

Meanwhile, a counter-campaign is gathering steam.

A pro-government youth group has launched a Facebook campaign entitled "Support for stability and development together with [President] Ilham Aliyev."

The group is headed by former parliament candidate Turan Ibrahimov, who previously worked as a TV anchor.

"We are at a critical point in the Nagorno-Karabakh talks. Let's not betray our president," says one of the group posts.

Local television stations have recently launched something of a campaign against social-network sites, interviewing psychologists and Internet experts who warn of the dangers to the state's security and image.

"I'm on Facebook, I see antigovernment materials posted on Facebook which are very harmful for our state. It's impossible to prevent such a trend," Jahid Ismayiloglu, a specialist on information technology, told ANS TV channel.

He said the Azerbaijani government cannot block social networks "as we live in a democratic state. But many states are using such things against our country."

There are also continued reports that Baku universities are blocking all windows, even those in bathrooms, fearing that leaflets could be thrown from them on March 11.

Meanwhile, another youth activist was given 10 days administrative punishment on March 5.

Police said Dayanat Babayev, a member of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) youth wing, was detained in central Baku for resisting police, who had reprimanded him for speaking loudly on his mobile phone and "using abusive words."

Read more in Azeri here, here, here, and here