LONDON. January 29, 2013: Scores of activists were detained and five
sentenced to prison following a peaceful protest in Azerbaijan on
Saturday, prompting Amnesty International to urge the Council of
Europe to make clear it will stand up for free expression in the
Caucasus country.

The arrest of around 80 peaceful protesters, 30 of whom were then
charged, came just days after the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe (PACE) failed to pass a resolution on political
prisoners calling on Azerbaijan to cease arresting and prosecuting
peaceful protesters.

Saturday~Rs protest began as a peaceful gathering of more than 200
people in three separate locations in central Baku, the capital, to
demonstrate against the authorities~R violent dispersal of another,
larger protest in the northern Azerbaijani city of Ismayili last week.

~SJust days after PACE rejected a resolution on politically motivated
arrests, the prosecution of these 30 individuals demonstrates how
far the issue is from being resolved,~T said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty
International~Rs Director for Europe and Central Asia.

~SThe PACE co-Rapporteurs responsible for monitoring Azerbaijan~Rs
obligations to the Council, Pedro Agramunt and Joseph Debono Grech,
opposed the resolution on political prisoners proposed by German
MP Christoph Strässer, stating they would address the problem of
political prisoners themselves.

~SHaving taken on this responsibility, they must now intervene to
ensure the sentences of those imprisoned or fined for taking part in
Saturday~Rs protest are overturned.~T

Unfair court hearings ~V lasting just minutes and using court-appointed
lawyers ~V were held after Saturday~Rs arrests, and 25 activists,
including three people Amnesty International previously declared as
prisoners of conscience, were handed heavy fines of between 300 and
2500 AZN ($383 and $3,186). The average monthly wage in Azerbaijan
is $513.

A further five activists were handed prison sentences for their role in
the protest ~V 15 days for blogger and former prisoner of conscience
Emin Milli, and 13 days each for Abulfaz Gurbanli, Rufat Abdullayev,
Turkel Alisoy and Turkel Azerturk.

Among those arrested and put on trial was Khadija Ismayilova,
a prominent independent journalist who was recently blackmailed
and targeted in a smear campaign after she published a report on
presidential corruption. She told Amnesty International:

~SI was among the protesters in Sahil park [in central Baku]~E [by then
it was] already silent, as most of the protesters were dispersed. The
group of the police attacked just to take me. I was screaming, asking
who they are, as they never introduced themselves and what they want.

~SMy trial was a comedy. I entered the room where two men were sitting
on the defence's place. I asked who they are and the judge said they
were my lawyers. I said ~QI don't know these people, I don't trust
them and I refuse. I want my own lawyers.~R I didn't know that in
fact my lawyers were outside of the building and were not allowed
in. The judge said I can't have my own lawyer as they are not here.~T

Ismayili protests

Saturday~Rs demonstration in Baku was a reaction to the violent
dispersal of protests several days earlier in Ismayili, about 200km
north-west of the capital. Police there used tear gas and rubber
bullets against crowds calling for the resignation of a local
governor. Several cars and at least two buildings were set ablaze
during the unrest.

Hundreds of people were also detained during the Ismayili protests,
and there have been allegations of torture in detention.

~SAmnesty International is concerned at reports that several people
arrested in relation to the unrest in Ismayili have been tortured
and ill-treated while in custody. We are calling for an immediate,
impartial and effective investigation into any such complaints,~T
said Dalhuisen.

~SWe are further calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to overturn
the sentences of all those fined and sentenced in Baku for having
taken part in Saturday~Rs peaceful protest~T (Amnesty International).

From: A. Papazian