Baku Police Drive Protesters Away . . . Literally
Taking protesters on a road trip has become a favorite crowd-control technique for the Azerbaijani police. After treating the participants in a March 10 rally in Baku to a dose of rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons, the police drove a group of detained demonstrators tens of miles away from the capital city and dumped them in the middle of nowhere.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismayilova, one of those detained for hours by police and then taken for the ride into deepest Gobustan, said that she was able to call her friends, who followed the police bus and picked up the detainees. “I hid my phone and did not give it to the police,” Ismayilova said. (Ismayilova also has worked for EurasiaNet.org.)
All told, more than 80 people were arrested for staging an unauthorized demonstration to demand investigations into brutal hazing and abuse in the Azerbaijani military, and an end to conscription. The long-standing problem sparked another Baku protest this January as well.
Army officials have tried to explain several of the conscripts’ deaths as accidents or suicides. Relatives, gathering in Baku's Fountain Square with photos of the dead soldiers, angrily have rejected such claims, and demand justice.
In response to the March 10 gathering, government officials, who often view civil resistance as a euphemism for treason, have re-aired the familiar line that these demonstrations are subversive acts sponsored by mysterious enemies of the state.
Siyavush Novruzov, deputy secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijani Party, claimed that the rally was organized by opposition parties which, in turn, supposedly serve some hostile foreign forces.
The Azerbaijani authorities have long tried to rid Baku’s glamorized downtown of protesters and have driven them outside of the city before. But, so far, civil activists seem to be willing to go the distance.