Amnesty International: NIDA Activists Arrested - Prisoners of Conscience

Amnesty International recognized the four arrested youth activists of the civil movement NIDA prisoners of conscience and demanded their immediate release. This appeal was made to the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the Prosecutor General Zakir Garalov.

The text reads as follows:

"Youth activists Mahammad Azizov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev, and Shahin Novruzlu were arrested in a sting operation

on 8 March; on 15 March Rashad Hasanov was also arrested. It is believed the five were arrested due to their

involvement in organising a peaceful protest, which was violently dispersed by the authorities on 10 March.

According to Turgut Gambar - the head of NIDA (a non-violent, pro-democracy youth movement) - the activists

were denied access to the lawyers of the choice during police questioning. They were reportedly questioned in the

presence of state appointed lawyers after which Mahammad Azizov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev and Shahin Novruzlu

appeared on state television reading pre-prepared confessions, prompting fears that they had been tortured or

otherwise ill-treated.

Police claim to have found drugs and incendiary devices in activists' homes. A court in Baku has ordered them to

serve three months in pre-trial detention on charges of illegal weapons possession. If convicted, the activists face

long prison sentences. Relatives of the activists maintain that the drugs and incendiary devices were planted by

plainclothes police officers during the search. When searching the house of Bakhtiyar Guliyev on 8 March, the

police showed neither identification papers nor a search warrant. When an initial search of Mahammad Azizov's

room found nothing, police searched a second time and claimed to have found a roll containing drugs. As the

search continued, the officers claimed to have found a box in the yard of the house, which contained several bottles

filled with fuel. The family said that this box had not been in their yard before the arrival of the officers.

Amnesty International has long-standing concerns about the Azerbaijani authorities' failure to respect their international

obligations to protect the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Dissenting voices in the country are

frequently targeted with trumped-up criminal charges, assault, harassment, or blackmail. Amnesty International has recently

dozens of documents on such cases; for a summary, see the Annual Report 2012 on Azerbaijan,

According to human rights groups in Azerbaijan, around 1,000 people participated in the 10 March protest in Baku, and

approximately 90 were arrested. The demonstrators were calling for an end to non-combat deaths in the Azerbaijani military

after a number of young conscripts reportedly died from 'hazing' - an aggressive and often violent initiation ceremony. Police

used rubber bullets, water cannon and batons to disperse the peaceful protesters. Several demonstrators were injured after

being beaten, some during their arrest and others while in custody. One demonstrator had his jaw dislocated after being hit in

the face with a police helmet.

The Azerbaijani government has routinely used drugs and weapons charges to silence critical voices in the country, and are

particularly intolerant of criticism of the President's family.

Mahammad Azizov and Bakhtiyar Guliyev were also the creators of a Facebook page that paid mock tribute to late President

Heydar Aliyev, father of current President Ilham Aliyev. The page frequently posted satirical messages and cartoons about him

and his family. "-06D-

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