Azerbaijan Braces for Protests

January 18th, 2016

 

Police Forcibly Disperse Social Protests in Regions

 

January 12– A group of residents of Liman town in Lankaran region held a protest demanding lower food prices, after the prices of food and other essential goods saw a sharp rise following the devaluation of the national currency on December 21, 2015. The police used physical force to disperse the protesters, who had attempted to block the Alat-Astara highway.

 

Lankaran Regional Executive Power confirmed that a protest had been held in the region, but that it had ended when the protesters were promised that their problems would be resolved.

 

January 12– A group of citizens gathered outside the executive power building in Siyazan region demanding that the authorities address unemployment and the post-devaluation difficulties of repaying bank loans. The chief of Siyazan Regional Executive Power received 40 of the protesters and told them that their problems would be resolved. However, following the late-night arrest of some of the protesters, the next day (January 13), the residents reassembled to demand the release of those arrested. Riot police from the Interior Ministry were deployed to break up the protest. They used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. 

 

January 13, 2016 – A similar protest broke out in Bala Bahmanli village in Fuzuli region. Police stopped the protesters from blocking the Baku-Horadiz highway. The protest ended after Fuzuli Regional Executive Power promised to fulfill the protesters’ demands. Deputy Chief of Fuzuli Regional Executive Power, Baghir Aslanov, confirmed that a protest had been held in Fuzuli due to the hike in food prices.

 

The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a joint statement on the protests held in the regions.

 

“On 12-13 January 2016, a group of Siyazan residents organized a street march through the central avenues and streets of the city without coordinating it in the manner specified by the law. By grossly violating the public order, the participants of the rally defied the legal requirements set forth by government representatives and committed illegal actions that infringed the normal activity of transport, enterprises, institutions and organizations. As a result, violence was committed against police officers on duty, endangering their lives and their health; bodily injuries of varying degrees of severity were inflicted on them; and two police cars were damaged in a manner that was dangerous to the public.

 

In order to ensure the safety of the region’s residents and to protect their constitutional rights, public order was restored through lawful measures taken by the police and internal troops, and 55 persons were detained for committing illegal acts. As these actions constituted criminal elements such as organization of actions promoting infringement of public order or active participation in such actions, causing intentional damage to property of others, and violently resisting  representatives of authorities in a way that is dangerous to life or health, a criminal case has been launched under Articles 186.2.2 (deliberate destruction or damage of property through arson, explosion or other publicly dangerous ways or entailing serious consequences), 233 (organization by group of persons of actions that seriously violate public order, or associated with insubordination to lawful requirements of the authorities, or entailing the infringement of the normal activity of transport, enterprise, establishment and organization, as well as active participation in such actions) and 315.2 (resistance or application of violence against a representative of the authorities) of the Criminal Code. The case is under investigation by the Prosecutor General’s Office. Some of the detainees have already been charged, and appropriate measures have been taken against those whose have committed administrative offences. Forensic examinations have been arranged in order to determine the amount of damage caused to the state and citizens as a result of the incident, the severity of the bodily injuries inflicted on the police officers, and other aspects.”

 

“Initial procedural investigations have revealed that the illegal actions carried out in Siyazan, Lankaran, Fuzuli, Aghjabadi, and Aghsu cities and regions, and aiming at the breach of public order were organized by activists from the APFP and Musavat Parties, as well as a number of radical religious extremist forces,” reads the official statement.

 

State officials have also commented on the socio-economic protests in the regions.

 

Member of Parliament Zahid Oruj believes that the protests should be accepted as a normal part of life.  “We should take into account that the social situation is not the same in every region of the country. For example, Siyazan has less land. Therefore, it lags behind others in terms of living conditions. In Lankaran, people were forced to bring their dissatisfaction onto the street after being deprived of their right to fish in the sea for a long time. This should be regarded as natural. No one can attribute those protests to someone in particular. This is the people’s stance. The government has to analyze this, draw conclusions and take urgent steps in several directions,” said the MP. MP Fazail Aghamali has said that 25-30 people protested in Siyazan over the increase in the price of flour, and that this protest was organized by the Musavat Party’s Siyazan branch. “The Musavat Party provoked people to take to the street. However, the protest ended as soon as the leadership of the regional executive power received the protesters, listened to them, and promised to address their problems,” Aghamali said. 

In their joint statement, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Interior Ministry stated that the protests in the regions had been organized by the opposition parties Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and Musavat Party.

 

Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Ali Karimli denied his party’s involvement in organizing any of the protest in the regions. “The government of Azerbaijan does not want to admit that its long-standing policy has led to the starvation of the people. Now they are face to face with hungry and angry people, who are in need of bread. The protests being held in the regions today are social protests and are the initiative of the people. We do not hold protests in secret. When we hold protests, we apply in line with official requirements. But these rallies are people’s rallies,” Karimli said.

 

Musavat Party’s chairman Arif Hajili also denied Musavat’s involvement in the regional protests. He added that when his party decides to hold a rally, it submits a notification to the relevant executive power, in accordance with party and national legislation. 

 

Social Protests Continue

 

January 17, 2016 – Residents of the Hovsan settlement of Baku held a protest regarding unemployment and social issues. The protesters gathered near the last bus stop in Hovsan. After voicing their demands, several of them headed for Surakhani District Executive Power to meet with officials. At the Executive Power building, the protesters warned officials that they would resume the protest unless their demands were fulfilled within a week. No confrontation occurred during the protest.

January 17, 2016 – Another protest against the hike in food prices and unemployment took place in Beylagan region. According to some locals, the police tried to use force against protesters but stepped back in the face of a strong public reaction, and no one was detained during the protest. Beylagan Executive Power denied this account of events.

January 18, 2016 – Entrepreneurs in Bina Shopping Center, one of the largest shopping centers in Baku, also held a protest against high rents and the increase in customs duties. The protesters say that despite the drop in sales after the devaluation of the Manat, rents have not been reduced. Some entrepreneurs then opened their shops, while others refused to do so.

The State Customs Committee has commented on the entrepreneurs’ remarks about an increase in customs duties. “All commodities and means of transport imported to the country are subject only to the taxes and duties provided for in the Law on Customs Tariff, and customs clearance is carried out in the shortest possible time once the relevant documents required for imports are submitted to the customs authorities in an accurate and timely manner,” the Committee said.

 
Government Puts Pressure on Opposition Activists Following Widespread Protests

 

Regional activists from the two main opposition parties, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP) and the Musavat Party are facing mounting pressure. Law enforcement agencies are blaming them for the ongoing public protests against inflation.  The first half of January has seen protests across various regions of the country (notably Siyazan, Fuzuli, Lankaran) following the dramatic devaluation of the Manat.  The protests were sparked by the hike in prices of food products and other essential goods, and the increased rate of workplace closure that followed the devaluation. 

 

Recent examples of this crackdown are the arrests of Yusif Latifov and Mammad Balamammadov, activists of the APFP Shaki branch. Yusif Latifov has been charged under article 310.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences (resistance to police) and Mammad Balamammadov under article 296 (minor hooliganism).

Shaki Regional Court sentenced them both to administrative detention; 20 days for Latifov and 10 days for Balamammadov.

 

In Shirvan, APFP activist Shahin Alizade has been sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention on charges of resisting police

 

The party has reported that activists in other regions are also being called to the police office and threatened.

 

According to the Musavat Party, people holding managerial positions in Musavat Party’s branches in some regions have been called to local police and prosecutor’s offices and warned. Among those summoned are advisors to the Musavat Party chairman, Hidayat Ismayil and Azer Ismayil, members of the Party’s Council, Alipanah Rzali and Rufat Bakhishbayli, chairman of the party’s Guba regional branch Yashar Israfilov, chairman of Aghjabadi regional branch Rashid Najafli, chairman of the Mingachevir city branch Nuraddin Rustamli and member of the Garadagh regional branch Elshad Soltanov. The warnings were issued based on allegations that they have handed out invitations to protests in the regions.

 

In their joint statement, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Interior also identified the opposition parties APFP and Musavat Party as the organizers of the protests held in the Siyazan, Lankaran and Fuzuli regions. Both parties reject the allegations, stating that they have not organized any of the protests.

 

 

Police Crackdown on Protests in Guba

 

January 15

 

Residents of Guba region protested against socio-economic conditions, hot on the heels of similar protests in Siyazan, Lankaran and Fuzuli.

 

The chief and deputy chief of Guba Regional Executive Power came to meet the protesters, listened to their demands, and then asked them to end the demonstration.

 

When the protesters refused, the police intervened. Uniformed and non-uniformed officers used water cannons and tear gas to break up the protest. The protesters tried to split into groups and continue their demonstration, but the police managed to gain control over the region. 

 

Locals say a large number of people were arrested, but the authorities have so far remained silent on this question.

Similar protests were held in Siyazan, Lankaran and Fuzuli regions on January 12-13, and were forcibly dispersed by the police. All of the protests were triggered by devaluation of the Manat in 2015, which led to the increase in prices of food and other essential goods and the closure of workplaces. The police used force to disperse peaceful protests against this lamentable situation.