Arrests of anti-war activists continue in Azerbaijan

Amidst the offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan continues to arrest Azerbaijani anti-war activists. “Invite us to break the regime’s monopoly on the peace process,” says one of them.

Av Rasmus Canbäck
23 september, 2023

Blankspot has reported in recent months on mass arrests of opposition and “no war” activists in Azerbaijan. This has happened at the same time as the authoritarian regime escalated the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and, in recent days, launched a full-scale offensive against the region, resulting in an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe for the civilian population.

[Read more: The persecution of Azerbaijani oppositionists is escalating]

In the past few days, at least five anti-war activists have been arrested for expressing criticism of the Nagorno-Karabakh offensive. Reports indicate that they have been subjected to police brutality and sentenced to 30 days in prison on vague charges.

One of them, Afiaddin Mammadov, the chairman of an unregistered trade union, is said to have been approached by a person with a knife who self-inflicted a wound. Shortly afterward, the police arrested Mammadov on charges of injuring the man. Activists affiliated with Mammadov believe it was a setup. Now he faces up to five years in prison.

In early September, the democracy movement Democracy 18 announced that they are shutting down their operations due to these accusations. Another organization, the Nida movement, in which some of those arrested are members, told Blankspot that despite the persecution, they will continue their activities.

“For 12 years, we have been fighting against repression in Azerbaijan and have never considered shutting down our operations despite attacks from the regime. During this period, we have supported young people in activism. The fact that Democracy 18 ceased its activities is likely related to this, as they are young, and the regime specifically targeted them in an attempt to suppress a new generation of opposition”, said a representative of Nida, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

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Why are these arrests happening now during the offensive?

“There’s a fairly straightforward explanation. One of our members, Nemet Abbasov, was one of those behind the organization of an anti-war seminar in August. Another member, journalist Nurlan Libre, shared news about what was happening and openly advocated for peaceful solutions. When the so-called anti-terror operation began, it was clear that we in the Nida movement were being targeted for arrests precisely because we had been trying to oppose the regime’s militarization”, says the same representative.

On September 21, Azerbaijan announced its intention to increase its defense budget from 5.2% for 2023 to 6% for 2024, despite the fact that Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh have laid down their weapons.

Since the 2020 war, President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly made territorial claims on large parts of Armenia, and there are concerns that the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is not the end of the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Nida movement has been opposing the militarization of society since 2011 and says it is experiencing intensified persecution of anti-war activists.

“Within our movement, we already have eight long-term imprisoned members. It is clear that they are political prisoners. A dozen have been arrested with short-term sentences. Recently, we have noticed how our members are being persecuted again, and there is a strong connection to our expressions against war and militarization of society. The regime sees anyone expressing their opinion, regardless of what it is, as a potential threat, and it tries to monopolize what the peace process means”, reasons the person from Nida.

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What needs to change?

“If a democratic system is not established in Azerbaijan, there is no question of defending anyone’s rights, whether they are Armenian or Azerbaijani. Without a democratic system, the problems will not disappear.”

How do you think the international community should act?

“They should break the regime’s monopoly and view of the peace process by inviting anti-war activists and allowing us to use our voices on an international platform.”

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