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Azerbaijani Islamic Party Members Arrested, Sentenced

Azerbaijan Islamic Party Chairman Movsum Samadov
Azerbaijan Islamic Party Chairman Movsum Samadov
BAKU -- Five members of the unregistered Azerbaijan Islam Party (AIP) have been arrested by police in Baku for resisting arrest in what is being called a crackdown on the party, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

AIP head Movsum Samadov, 45, was detained on January 7 along with three other party members. They were sentenced to 10-15 days in jail.

Party press secretary Akif Heydarli was detained on January 9.

Heydarli told RFE/RL that Samadov and three other party members were stopped by police while driving in a car. They were asked for their documents and then told they were resisting arrest and detained.

AIP member Inqilab Ahadli told RFE/RL today that the whereabouts of Samadov and Heydarli were currently unknown.

Party officials called the charges against the men baseless and said the arrests and sentences were politically motivated.

On January 2, Samadov gave a speech during a party meeting in Baku in which he sharply criticized a recent government ban on head scarves in Azerbaijani middle schools.

In the speech (see video here), Samadov referred to a "Washington Post" article from last year alleging that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has millions of dollars worth of property in Dubai.

"We are against those who are against our religion. We have to destroy such a cruel regime and its head," he continued. Attendees at the meeting chanted slogans such as "Allahu Akbar!" (God is great).

The Interior Ministry said in a press release that it had received information that Samadov gave instructions to his cousin, Dayanat Samadov, to cause a disturbance, "violate security," and "provoke people to jihad."

The ministry said it searched the electrical shop where Dayanat Samadov works and found three hand grenades as well as seven automatic rifle cartridges at his home. It said it had arrested him and the shop owner and launched an investigation.

The Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy said the case against Movsum Samadov was a "suppression of freedom of expression."

Mehman Aliyev, head of the Azerbaijani news agency Turan, told RFE/RL he was convinced that Samadov's sentencing is the authorities' reaction to his critical speech at the party meeting.

"He slightly criticized President Ilham Aliyev in his speech; the appeal included statements against the authorities, calling on the people to resist the government," Mehman Aliyev said.

Aliyev added that a recent protest in front of the Education Ministry against official restrictions on girls wearing head scarves in school showed the division between the government and Islamic devotees.

On January 9, police briefly detained and released another politically active Muslim, Haci Shahin Hasanli, the chairman of the Moral World Social Union.

Hasanli told RFE/RL that the court had cleared him of some "misunderstanding" while he was detained.

The AIP was established in 1991 and officially registered one year later. But the party's registration was annulled in 1995 and it has not been reregistered.

Party officials say they have thousands of members but do not give further details.

Movsum Samadov is a medical school graduate who also studied Islam at the Higher Islam University in Qom, Iran. Before being elected chairman of the AIP, he headed its branch in the city of Quba.

Samadov has been supportive of Iran's right to nuclear energy and claims that Azerbaijan's foreign policy is too pro-Israel.