BAKU -- Baku authorities have demolished the offices of a prominent rights group in a move that has drawn condemnation from the European Union and Human Rights Watch, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.
The offices of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) were torn down August 11 under police supervision as part of an urban renewal project.
Local residents and workers screamed and cursed at the demolition crew as they went about their work.
Azad Isazadeh, who works for the Women's Crisis Center that had offices in the building, told RFE/RL about the demolition.
"[Officials] told me to leave the office for a while [and] I believed them and left," Isazadeh said. "It's good that I didn't go home. When I saw an excavator approaching the office to demolish it, I returned to the office. The excavator stopped and they ordered [workers] to break down the bars of the windows. Yusif Qambarov [the official supervising the demolition] ordered that the doors and bars be broken."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the European Union's representation in Azerbaijan both condemned the demolition of the building, which also housed a women's crisis center and an antilandmine campaign group.
"The government's ruthless demolition of an office that serves as a hub for human rights activism in Azerbaijan sends a chilling message to all Azerbaijanis," HRW's Jane Buchanan said in a statement. "These human rights organizations, which provided crucial support to victims of government abuse, as well as women in crisis and others in need, have lost nearly everything."
The EU representation in Baku said it "deplores" the demolition. It said that the destruction took place despite a local court ruling and while the owner of the building was abroad. It noted that employees of the three organizations did not have the chance to retrieve personal and professional documents and belongings from the premises.
A Baku City Council official in attendance refused to speak to RFE/RL.
City officials have said all buildings on Shamsi Badalbayli Street in central Baku are being demolished to make way for the construction of a large city park. The project is under the supervision of first lady Mehriban Aliyeva.
Some residents of homes to be demolished have refused to vacate their homes, however, as the IPD staff did initially before being forced to leave before a crane demolished the building.
Residents complain that the compensation they have been offered by city officials for their property is inadequate to buy apartments elsewhere in the city center. Some said it was only about 25 percent of what their property is worth on the real estate market.
In June, Human Rights Watch called on Azerbaijani authorities to immediately halt illegal expropriations of land, forcible evictions, and the demolition of private homes and other property in Baku in the name of "beautifying" the city.
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