October 19, 2019 12:56 GMT UPDATED October 19, 2019 20:17 GMT
BAKU — Police detained dozens of opposition activists before and during a protest in the Azerbaijani capital on October 19.
According to police, a little over 200 people participated in the demonstration and 60 were detained. Police said 42 of those detained were released with a “warning.”
Videos on social media showed police using force to drag demonstrators away, sometimes striking them.
The protest was organized by the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), an umbrella group of Azerbaijani opposition groups, and was not authorized by the authorities.
The leader of the opposition Popular Front Party, Ali Kerimli, was among several activists detained shortly before the protest.
Police said Kerimli was released late in the evening.
In the run-up to the demonstration, Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova said police also blocked three subway stations in an apparent attempt to thwart protesters from reaching the rally site. She also said Internet service had been blocked in most of the city.
RFE/RL link: blob:https://www.rferl.org/7785cf31-5bfb-4dac-9845-0d5dbf26a1c3
Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the Azerbaijani authorities for refusing to allow the opposition to peacefully gather.
“Azerbaijan authorities continue to display blatant contempt for freedom of assembly in the country,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at HRW, in a comment on Twitter.
Protesters called for the release of political prisoners and reductions in rates for natural gas and electricity.
The latest crackdown comes after police detained several people at a protest on October 8 in Baku in support of the right to free assembly that was organized by the NCDF.
President Ilham Aliyev has ruled the South Caucasus country of nearly 10 million since shortly before the death of his father, President Heydar Aliyev, in 2003.
Aliyev has overseen the systematic dismantling of the country’ civil society. Dozens of activists, journalists, and human rights activists have been arrested and convicted on what critics say are bogus, politically motivated, charges. Independent media outlets have also been shut down.
(C) RFE/RL 2019