Warnings, arrests, rights violations. How the Aliyev government is fighting anti-militarist ideas
One of the problems that have been worrying Azerbaijani socio-political activists since the end of 2020 is the persecution that people who oppose the war and voice peace calls are subjected to. Two years ago, during the 44-day Armenian-Azerbaijani war, those who expressed an anti-war position were persecuted by law enforcement agencies. The trend continues to this day.
On September 20, 2022, political activist and chairman of the Democracy 1918 Movement, Ahmed Mammadli, was sentenced by the Sabail District Court to 30 days of administrative arrest for “disobedience to the lawful demands of a police officer and petty hooliganism”. Mammadli , however, said that in fact he was arrested for posts on social networks in which he calls for peace and criticizes the president of the country.
“The world is the president’s monopoly”
“When clashes started [with Armenia] at the border, I called Ilham Aliyev the main culprit of these clashes in my posts on Facebook and Twitter,” Ahmed Mammadli said.. – I wrote that all responsibility for violation of the border lies with Ilham Aliyev. He is responsible for this not only to the Azerbaijani, but also to the Armenian people. Then I wrote several tweets – appeals to the Azerbaijani people: “Do not trust a person who takes away all your rights, deprives you of all fundamental rights. The more you become attached to him, the more he will suppress you.”
On the night of September 13 this year, military clashes began between the armed forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as a result of which there were dead and wounded. Actions unfolded outside of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia and Azerbaijan then exchanged mutual accusations of the escalation of the conflict.
On September 16, the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan reported the death of 77 Azerbaijani servicemen during the clashes. According to Prime Minister Pashinyan , 105 people died on the Armenian side . Nikol Pashinyan then stated that “As a result of the last attack (on the night of September 12-13), Azerbaijan occupied 10 square kilometers of the territory of Armenia. Official Baku called it “a fair restoration of the real border between the two countries.”
“At a time when those who have faced the horrors of war lost their loved ones, oppose the current military clashes, bloodsuckers sitting at their keyboards are pushing people to their deaths. NO TO WAR!”, “Ilham Aliyev, this is a dictator whose hands are stained with blood. It’s not that hard to understand,” Ahmad Mammadli posted such posts on his Facebook page on September 17 and 19.
On September 20, he was arrested.
“ On Islam Safarli Street , I was stopped by five policemen dressed in civilian clothes. I gave my smartphone to my colleague Samir Sultanov, so they detained him and forcibly took away my phone from him. I was taken to the 9th police station. They asked me to unlock my phone. They wanted me to erase my posts with my own hand and thus, as it were, demonstrate that I was abandoning my position. I didn’t do it. Therefore, a protocol was drawn up against me and sent to the Sabail district court ,” Ahmad Mammadli said. Meydan TV.
After the activist insisted, he was assigned a public defender.
“And even a state-appointed lawyer found the charges against me absurd. But the court did not consider any evidence, including the video, and I received an administrative term. While in prison I did not encounter violence, but through intermediaries I received all sorts of offers. In particular, they suggested to me, they say, continue to criticize the government, this is not a problem, you can even criticize the leadership of the country, but there are topics that only we can talk about, namely, the friendship of peoples and peace,” Mammadli continues his story .
On September 21, when the International Day of Peace was celebrated everywhere, Ahmad Mammadli went on a hunger strike in prison to protest his unjust arrest.
“Peace is the monopoly of President Ilham Aliyev, and he does not want anyone to interfere in it ,” the activist says.
“Ilham Aliyev has been conducting “peace talks” for years (that’s right, in quotation marks), but neither the public nor his opponents know anything about this. Only manipulative information gets into the public space, that, supposedly, Azerbaijan is making attempts for peace, but nothing happens. But we do not know what is the role of Ilham Aliyev personally in the reign of peace. Maybe he, like all authoritarian rulers, is himself interested in having hot spots in his country, so that the country is constantly in a state of war and people’s attention would never switch to internal issues. He is constantly looking for an external enemy, because otherwise he will not be able to confront internal problems. Therefore, he does not want the existence of any alternative peaceful discourse, except for what he himself leads. And if someone, besides him, comes up with peace proposals or demands, or, without his knowledge, cooperates with the Armenian community and organizations to stimulate peace processes in the South Caucasus, then this is not profitable for Aliyev. Therefore, he prevents this in every possible way,” Mammadli believes .
Sanction for dissent
Ahmad Mammadli is far from being the first and only one in Azerbaijan who faced persecution for calling for peace.
Civil activist Rustam Ismailbayli was summoned to the General Prosecutor’s Office after he shared on Twitter a quote from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: “As long as there is no threat to the freedom of the people, starting a war is a crime .”
Because of this anti-war tweet , on August 4 this year, Rustam Ismailbayli was given an official warning on the Prosecutor’s Office.
“My post with a quote from Ataturk was dedicated to the fact that even two years after the second Karabakh war and the signing of a peace statement, confrontations and battles between the two countries flare up again and again, and dissatisfaction with all this is growing. That same evening, they called me and summoned me to the prosecutor’s office, without explaining the reason, – says Ismailbayli Meydan TV . – The next morning I went there with my lawyer Agil Laijem . The prosecutor’s office asked me about this very quote, in which they saw a threat to national security. I said that I do not claim that Azerbaijan started the war, but simply oppose endless hostilities. But this explanation of mine did not change anything – they gave me a warning, according to the instructions received in advance .
He is confident that the Azerbaijani authorities do not want alternative opinions to be heard in society that go beyond the peaceful policy promoted by the government itself.
“The main thing they achieve is the absence of any dissent, alternative discourse. If the state conducts some kind of propaganda, then you should not speak out against it. They seek to prevent the spread of opinions that differ from their official propaganda, put pressure on those who oppose the rhetoric and actions of the government. The authorities intend to impose a sanction on dissent about peaceful politics . ”
Rustam Ismayilbayli says that since ex-president of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev came to power and up to the present day, when his son rules the country, the normal existence of different opinions on this topic remains impossible here. More precisely – opinions that differ from the opinion of the authorities. The state demands that all without exception relate to the theme of peace in the same way as itself.
“They spend millions on propaganda meant for the people. And the people who fell under the influence of this propaganda consider those who voice alternative opinions to be traitors to their homeland .
What does peace mean for the Azerbaijani authorities?
Activist Giyas Ibragimov , who ended up in the state security service in the fall of 2020 due to his anti-war posts, also explains the reason for the pressure and persecution by differences in understanding the world.
“In 2020, only a small, marginalized group opposed the war. Few people at that time were against the policy pursued by the state. Because in wartime, speaking out against it requires courage. And in general, people really supported the actions of the state during the war, and they could be understood, because it was about the return of the occupied territories. And the authorities could calmly put pressure on you, arguing that, they say, the people are dissatisfied with my anti-war position ,” says Ibragimov.
Now, according to the activist, the situation has changed, but attempts to silence those who express an alternative position on the theme of peace, monopolized by Ilham Aliyev, continue.
“In 2022, there are already more opponents of the war. Unlike 2020, the topic of peace has entered the official agenda of the state. But against the backdrop of peace talks, new confrontations are taking place on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, the most serious of which occurred on September 13 and showed how naive it was to expect a peace agreement after the 2020 war. And even if everyone wants peace, their ideas about the world differ. The world, which a number of activists in the person of Ahmed Mammadli want to reign , is based on a certain ideology, and this contradicts the domestic and foreign policy of the authorities. This interferes with the government, and those who create such interference face severe persecution. At the moment, the authorities are openly demonstrating their intentions. They make it clear that only the head of state can decide what the world will be like. And those who think otherwise will be subjected to pressure.”
“The authorities violate freedom of expression”
Persecution for peaceful appeals is a violation of the right to freedom of expression, said Meydan TV human rights activist Rasul Jafarov.
“Both the constitution of our country and the international conventions we have signed (particularly Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights) guarantee the right to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression may be restricted only in cases provided for by law. And peaceful appeals do not apply to such cases. Therefore, persecution for promoting peace and calling for peace is unacceptable under the law. If someone has faced pressure for such appeals, they can apply to the local courts. And if the local courts do not satisfy his complaint, then you can apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ,” Jafarov explains.
Local human rights activists emphasize that the Azerbaijani government grossly violates the right to freedom of expression. These statements of theirs are also reflected in the reports on the violation of rights and freedoms.
Thus, according to a report by the Institute for Democratic Initiatives, in 2021, six people in Azerbaijan were prosecuted for posting on social networks. The report states that “state structures, by abuse of their powers, allow themselves illegitimate interference with freedom of speech” .
“The fact that in 2021 six people were prosecuted for posting on social media means that there is no progress in terms of freedom of expression compared to previous years. So far, the ECHR has adopted 16 decisions regarding the violation of the right to freedom of expression in relation to Azerbaijan. According to this indicator, Azerbaijan is in third place in the list of the ECtHR ,” the report of the organization, which has been functioning for nine years, says.
The Human Rights House Foundation has called on the government of Azerbaijan to “immediately end the threats and violence” based on the allegations. The Center for Monitoring Elections and Democracy Education regularly reminds that the right to freedom of expression of Azerbaijani citizens should be protected by the country’s constitution and international conventions signed by the country, including the European Convention on Rights and Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
And the peace treaty has not yet been signed
The last large-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan began on September 27, 2020. In this war, which lasted 44 days and was called the second Karabakh war, more than 6,000 people were killed on both sides. Azerbaijan has regained control over part of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent regions. On November 10, 2022, the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia signed a trilateral ceasefire statement. After that, Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the Lachin corridor and in Karabakh. And although the statement suggested the signing of a peace treaty, this has not happened for two years now. Both the Azerbaijani and the Armenian side speak out in favor of peace from time to time, but they still cannot reach an agreement. And official Baku and Yerevan blame each other for the fact that this process is being dragged out, and blame each other for the periodic aggravations that arise between the countries.
How the word “peace” is understood in the world
The word “peace” is understood as friendship and harmony in a society where there is no hostility and violence. In a social sense, peace usually means the absence of war, as well as the absence of the risk of violence between individuals and groups. According to NATO estimates , after 1945 the world was at peace (that is, without any wars) for a total of only 26 days.
“Despite the pressure, peaceful appeals continue”
In prison, Ahmed Mammadli was demanded not to write posts about peace anymore, and in case of disobedience, they threatened to be sent to the army.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Mammadli intends to continue his calls for peace.
“For the sake of this, I refused the quiet life offered to me in prison. At the same time, I take into account the pressure that may be exerted on me in the future. Not only myself, but the Democracy 1918 movement I lead is also a supporter of peace and friendship between peoples, and we will continue to make such calls on the anti-system front ,” he declares.
Ahmed Mammadli calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to stop pressure on pacifists and anti-militarists once and for all.
Correspondent of Meydan TV tried to get comments from members of the parliamentary committee on legal policy and state building, the committee for defense, security and the fight against corruption and the committee for human rights. 70% of the deputies who are members of these committees did not answer the journalist’s call at all. The rest refused to answer the question.
With the support of ” Mediaset”