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The main topic of public discussion is the events that took place in the Nardaran settlement last month, namely the police operation on November 26 which led to violent clashes, ending with the death of two police officers and four civilians. People set up barricades in Nardaran. Electricity and water supplies to the settlement have been suspended, and telephone lines were cut. Law enforcement agencies claim that Muslim Union Movement leader Taleh Bagirzade and his companions wanted to seize power by force. Twenty-four people, including Bagrizade, have been arrested and are awaiting life sentences. Arrests have also been conducted in other regions.
The chronology of events:
Muslim Union Movement Chairman, theologian Taleh Bagirzade was summoned to the Ministry of National Security on September 22, where he was interviewed and then released.
Taleh Bagirzade reported facing physical pressure at Yasamal District police office on November 3. He was required to explain his reasons for gathering people and organizing a visit to the grave of national hero Mubariz Ibrahimov.
Just two days later, Elchin Gasimov was arrested by the officials from the Sabunchu District Police Office. He was charged under Article 310 (willful failure to obey a law order of a police officer) of the Code of Administrative Offices and sentenced to 30-days of administrative detention.
A special operation was conducted on November 26.
A legitimate police operation to protect national security is one thing, but the events in Nardaran have led to massive violations of constitutional rights.
Specifically, the statement released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of National Security and the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan Republic violated the presumption of innocence provided for in domestic and international law of those detained in the police operation. The statement named Taleh Bagirov as the head of a criminal gang. However, Article 63 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan Republic states that “Everyone is entitled for presumption of innocence. Everyone who is accused of crime shall be considered innocent until his guilt is proved legally and if no verdict of law court has been brought into force.”
The detainees have been deprived of their right to meet with their lawyers. Taleh Bagirzade’s lawyer Javad Javadov has said that he has not been able to meet with Taleh so far.
Under Article 61 of the Constitution, “Every citizen has the right to a lawyer’s advice from the moment of detention, arrest or accusation with crime by competent state bodies.”
The denial of a meeting with the lawyer has increased anxiety about the possibility that detainees are being tortured and/or mistreated.
Article 25.4 of the Law on the Police reads that “the police officer shall use safe methods and means in the course of entering the premises against the will of the residents, respect their dignity and honor, lives, health and property and avoid unnecessary damage, except in cases of necessary self-defense and last resort.” However, when entering the houses of the residents in Nardaran, the police broke the doors of cupboards and damaged other items in the house. The principle of necessity was not respected.
Cutting the electricity supply to the settlement is also a violation. According to the “Guidelines for the use of electricity” (approved by the decision #18 dated 2 February 2005 of the Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan Republic):
9.13. The power supplier may suspend electricity supply to consumers in the following cases:
9.13.1. upon the relevant written request of the consumer (specifying the reason and the duration of the suspension of electricity supply);
9.13.2. in case of the consumer’s failure to fully pay the electricity bill determined based on the electric meter reading within one month after the bill has been presented (sent) to him by the power supplier;
9.13.3. during repair/maintenance or emergency work, including prevention of fire or gas leak;
9.13.4. in case of absence of a relevant contract with the power supplier;
9.13.5. by a court decision.
The residents deny having any outstanding bills – and even that were the case, why were the electricity, water and phone lines all cut at exactly that moment?
On December 1, the police evacuated people from the mosque in Nardaran, where they had gathered to mark the 40th day after the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein, reported village elder Natig Karimov.
Officers justified this step as a precaution against any possible provocation.
Police forces cleaned religious writing off the walls and removed religious posters in Nardaran settlement. This is a gross violation of freedom of conscience, guaranteed under domestic and international law. Everyone has the right to define his/her attitude to religion, to profess, individually or together with others, any religion or to profess no religion, to express and spread one’s beliefs concerning religion.
Internet services to Nardaran have also been suspended. Journalists travelling to Nardaran to film cannot broadcast, and residents cannot even use mobile internet. This constitutes censorship. Although the government officials claim that internet freedom is guaranteed in Azerbaijan, cutting internet services to the settlement after the protest proves that the authorities use censorship as a tool of political control. After the Nardaran events, internet speed was noticeably reduced in various parts of Baku.
After the Nardaran events, legislative amendments concerning religious issues have been proposed. This was reported at the December 2 session of the Azerbaijani Parliament. A provision will be added to Article 18 of the Law on Citizenship regarding deprivation of citizenship for terrorist activities and actions aimed at violent change of the constitutional system of Azerbaijan.
The amendments to the Law on Freedom of Religion prohibits manifesting religious slogans or other religious attributes (except those carried on one’s person, such as a necklace or headscarf) in public places and areas outside places of worship. A new article has been added to the law in this connection. According to the new addition, religious banners can only be placed in places of worship, religious centers and offices. Significantly, Islamic rituals and ceremonies can only be performed by citizens of Azerbaijan. Citizens receiving religious education abroad are prohibited from conducting such ceremonies. In connection with this, Article 168-1 has been added to the Criminal Code; the violation of this provision is punishable with a fine of 1000 to 5000 AZN or one year in jail.
These amendments also are in contrast to the legislation, because the intended amendment to the law on citizenship contradicts the country’s constitution, as according to the constitution, no one can be deprived of his citizenship. Prohibiting the persons studying abroad from conducting ceremonies also represents a flagrant interference with the freedom of conscience.