Former MP who expressed support for environmental activists arrested in Azerbaijan
On Wednesday, an Azerbaijani court sent a former member of the Milli Majlis to jail for four months after state media accused him of coordinating eco-protests in a village 450 kilometers from Baku.
Residents of the village of Soyudlu in the Gadabay region in western Azerbaijan protested on June 20 against the creation of an artificial lake into which they want to drain waste from a nearby gold mine being developed by the British.
The police took control of the village and restricted all movements for more than two weeks. According to reports, at least 11 residents were detained, three of them were charged with possession of drugs.
Nazim Beydamirli, a former deputy from this region, who lives in Baku, gave an interview to the Azerbaijani service of the Voice of America and other independent media. He criticized the authorities for failing to address the public health and environmental issues that plague the villagers.
“The state should support the people of Soyudlu and protect their interests,” he said.
State media accused him of supporting and coordinating the protests. On the same day, he announced that he had filed a lawsuit against the state television company for baseless allegations.
And about ten days later he was detained. According to the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the police launched an investigation into Beydamirli, as someone filed a lawsuit against him.
“The citizen turned to the police with a statement that N. Beidamirli threatened him and demanded 50,000 manats (almost 30,000 dollars) from him,” the report says.
If found guilty, Beidamirli could face up to ten years in prison.
In an interview with local media, Beidamirli’s lawyer said his client denies the allegations and claims he was arrested because of the environmental protests.
“We will file an appeal,” lawyer Agil Layij said.
Beidamirli is not the only one being persecuted for supporting the protests.
Several journalists and activists expressed their support on social media and ended up behind bars.
Activists Elmir Abbasov and Giyas Ibragimov criticized the police brutality during the protests, and they were also arrested on June 21 and 22.
The local court found Ibragimov guilty of resisting the police and disseminating prohibited information on the Internet. He was sentenced without trial to 32 days of arrest. Abbasov was charged with resisting the police and hooliganism and sentenced to 20 days in prison.
And on June 22, journalists Nargiz Absalamova, Nigar Mubariz and Elsever Muradzade were detained. Later they were released, but forced to leave the village and forbidden to return.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a total of six journalists were detained or harassed by the authorities in connection with their coverage of the Söyudlu protests.
Two days after the protests, Elmaddin Shamilzade was summoned to the State Service of Azerbaijan for Mobilization. Shamil-zade was required to prove that he was indeed exempt from conscription for military service. He requested a certificate from his university.
The next day he was detained by the police. He was beaten and forced to delete the video he posted. Shamilzade was threatened with imprisonment if he told anyone about what had happened.
Ulvi Hasanli from Abzas Media was called to the police and demanded to remove the photos he posted on Facebook: the pictures show journalists being arrested in Soyudlu. Gasanli refused, and four hours later he was released.
The independent Brussels-based NGO International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) issued a statement calling on Azerbaijan to “immediately investigate all allegations of violations related to the recent environmental protest in hzikhidtidekrt village.”