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Azerbaijani Opposition Targeted Ahead of Election

Party activists and their relatives say they face threats and harassment.
By Aytan Farhadova
  • Turkel Karimli (centre, with raised arm), arrested with two others following an Azerbaijani opposition rally. (Photo: Aytan Farhadova)
    Turkel Karimli (centre, with raised arm), arrested with two others following an Azerbaijani opposition rally. (Photo: Aytan Farhadova)

Opposition activists in Azerbaijan say they are being systematically attacked, detained and harassed as the country prepares to vote in a presidential election due on October 9. (See also Bitterness as Azeri Election Race Begins.)

One recent incident came after the major opposition parties, including Musavat and the Popular Front, held a demonstration in support of their joint presidential candidate Jamil Hasanli on September 22.

Following the rally, attended by about 10,000 people, Turkel Karimli, son of Popular Front leader Ali Karimli, was arrested with two others. They were charged with resisting arrest and damaging other candidates’ election posters, and given prison sentences of up to 30 days.

A spokesman for the interior ministry said police officers were unaware of the identities of the three men – the other two were Karimli’s relative Jashgun Salahzade and friend Ulvi Nuriyev – until after their detention.

Ali Karimli, however, said it was just another attempt to intimidate opposition parties into silence.

“My family has been constantly threatened all year,” he said. “Strangers have phoned our house and made threats. I’ve told my family not to go out on their own and make sure they are always among friends and comrades, so that if there’s some kind of provocation, they’ll have witnesses.”

The day after the rally, a group of men attacked Ali Gulaliyev, the 16-year-old son of Hasanli’s spokesman Oqtay Gulaliyev, stabbed him with a knife and left him bleeding on the street. Passers-by found the teenager and got an ambulance to take him to hospital, where he was operated on.

Oqtay Gulaliyev is the founder of the Kura association, which provides assistance to the victims of natural disasters. He is currently under house arrest after being charged with organising protests by flood victims angry at the extent of corruption in the allocation of reconstruction funds.

He said he hoped police would find those responsible for attacking his son.

Interior ministry spokesman Orkhan Mansurzade said the assault on Ali Gulaliyev was unconnected with his father’s occupation. Instead, he said, the teenager had argued with a classmate, whose friends then attacked him.

Mubariz Gurbanli, deputy head of President Ilham Aliyev’s Yeni Azerbaijan party, said that neither incident had any connection to political developments, and it was wrong to try to make one.

“The interior ministry has released official information that Turkel Karimli and his two friends, under the influence of alcohol, ripped candidates’ posters and ignored the police’s commands, and were therefore arrested,” he said in an interview with the Trend news agency. “And Ali Gulaliyev had a fight with his peers and got injured. The investigation is continuing, and the guilty will be punished. Why should you then link these routing incidents with their fathers’ activities?”

Bashir Suleymanli, executive director at the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre, said that despite the official denials, these incidents were part of a wider pattern of events.

“The arrest of Ali Kerimli’s son and the injury done to Oqtay Gulaliyev’s son are of course not coincidences,” he added. “It’s all political repression designed to scare people before the election.”

The two incidents came shortly after a televised debate which descended into chaos after pro-government candidate Hafiz Hajiyev threw a water bottle at Hasanli, the opposition candidate.

During the September 19 debate, Hajiyev alleged that Hasanli’s children spent their time in London bars. When it was Hasanli’s turn to speak, he listed allegations of corruption against President Aliyev, who was not among those taking part.

Hajiyev interrupted him repeatedly, then threw the bottle across the table before being ejected by security men.

Hasanli then asked to be allowed more time to speak to make up for the interruption, but the moderator refused, so he too then left the studio.

In a report the following day, Azerbaijani Public Television, which staged the debate, accused Hasanli of insulting other candidates and violating electoral law, but did not censure Hajiyev.

Aytan Farhadova is a reporter for the Bizim Yol newspaper in Azerbaijan.

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