Legal experts contend that administrative arrests pose a significant challenge to the freedom of expression.
Reports indicate a rise in pressure and administrative detentions targeting social activists and opposition figures within Azerbaijan over recent months. This increase is particularly notable following the two-day military operations in Karabakh on September 19, 2023.
The majority of those detained face charges related to the dissemination of prohibited information, leading their relatives and human rights advocates to believe that their arrests are a result of their critical opinions and activities.
According to lawyer Alasgar Mammadli, the administrative arrests of these individuals raise serious concerns regarding freedom of expression:
“It is not tenable for the determination of whether a person is spreading sensitive information, whether it is lawful, or whether it is based on the judgment of a particular official. This necessitates a professional approach and amounts to an intrusion into freedom of expression. Restricting an individual’s liberty through a monthly administrative decision, devoid of evidence, justification, or due process, is not appropriate.”
Lawyer Khalid Agaliyev underscores the ambiguity and complexity introduced into the legal framework with changes made to the “On Information, Informatization and Protection of Information” law in 2017. These changes, he suggests, create ample opportunities for suppressing freedom of expression:
“The language of the law is unclear, leaving room for potential abuses. While the law may appear to legitimize penalties for disseminating certain information based on its wording, viewed in the broader context of the right to freedom of expression, such prosecutions and punishments represent serious violations of that right.”
Agaliyev emphasizes the need for more refined court decisions in all cases to ensure a more accurate judgment. However, he points out that such punishments are often politically motivated and serve as a means of intimidation.
On October 24, a photograph of Mehman Habibov, a member of the Azerbaijan People’s Front Party (APFP), with visible injuries, was made public. Habibov alleged that on October 11, he was assaulted by individuals in civilian clothing, who subjected him to severe beatings and threats. His complaint was reportedly disregarded by the police, prompting him to temporarily leave the country.
Elshad Hajiyev, the head of the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), denied the allegations of police officers pressuring Mehman Habibov, asserting that the detention of individuals and the selection of preventive measures are unrelated to their political beliefs.
Rufat Safarov, co-founder of the “Defense Line” human rights organization, highlights the sustained policy of repression employed by Azerbaijani authorities, which has diminished societal resistance. He notes that, despite certain military achievements, a lack of trust persists between the government and the society, due to socio-economic problems and violations of basic human rights. Safarov further expresses concerns about cases of torture in police stations.
According to Safarov, social media users or activists who express critical opinions about government officials can easily become targets.
Elman Nasirov, a member of the Human Rights Committee of the Milli Majlis, dismisses claims of persecution based on political views, emphasizing Azerbaijan’s victory in the restoration of its territorial sovereignty in Karabakh and the enhancement of its international reputation.
Since September 20, 2023, numerous activists in Azerbaijan reported being summoned to the prosecutor’s office and the State Security Service. Some of them subsequently faced 30-day administrative detentions ordered by the courts. These detentions were linked to charges under Article 388-1.1.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, related to the dissemination of prohibited information. Afieddin Mammadov, coordinator of the Workers’ Table Trade Unions Confederation, received a 2-month prison sentence due to charges of hooliganism and deliberately causing serious harm to health under articles 221.3 and 126.1 of the Criminal Code. Young activist Nemet Abbasov was sentenced to 30 days in prison for disobeying a legal request by the police under Article 535.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.
The arrested individuals and their legal representatives linked their punishments to their critical opinions concerning the military operations initiated by Azerbaijan in Karabakh on September 19.