Assault on prominent Azerbaijani opposition figure ahead of Council of Europe vote on Azerbaijan

Press release
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On Sunday, 13 January 2013, Musavat party leader and prospective presidential candidate, Isa Gambar was attacked on the way to his party’s regional conference in the southern coastal city of Lenkoran. His convoy was blocked by 10 vehicles at the city’s entrance and attacked by a crowd of over 100 people. Stones and eggs were thrown at the convoy and windows smashed, with several members of Gambar’s team being assaulted and injured. The attack came just 10 days after Gambar announced his intention to run for Azerbaijan’s presidential elections in October 2013.

Police present at the scene allegedly failed to intervene. The Musavat party state that the assault appears to have been orchestrated by plainclothes security agents. The assailants also briefly detained the Musavat Party’s photographer, Mehman Karimov, for questioning and inspection of his camera. The Azerbaijani authorities deny any involvement.

These events follow a rally of around 2,000 people in Baku demonstrating against the death of an 18-year-old conscript believed to have been tortured to death at an army base in the west of the country. The protest on 12 January 2013 was dispersed by riot police. Twenty one participants were hit with heavy fines under a new law that came into force late last year, significantly increasing penalties for “unsanctioned” demonstrations. These actions are seen to be part of the government’s attempts to stifle dissent ahead of the presidential elections.

This repressive climate prevails only days before a plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (21-25 January 2013) in Strasbourg. This session will see the Assembly vote on a draft resolution concerning Azerbaijan’s honouring of its obligations and commitments (1).

The Assembly’s draft resolution expresses regret at the numerous examples of Azerbaijan’s disregard for its obligations and commitments as a Council of Europe member state. It notes that, "since the last parliamentary elections in 2010, some well-known Azerbaijani opposition parties are not represented in parliament and the ruling party is the only one which is eligible to establish a political group. Independent parliamentarians, albeit often critical towards the government, have little chance of making their voices heard."

The draft resolution recalls that "the establishment of an inclusive political system and a truly competitive and unrestrictive political environment requires full implementation of basic freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. The situation in Azerbaijan is preoccupying and the Assembly expresses its deep concern in this regard."

FIDH and HRCA demand an independent inquiry into what appears to have been an orchestrated attack on Azerbaijani opposition presidential candidate, Isa Gambar. The attack’s authors and backers must be brought to justice and duly sanctioned.

"This attack and the unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression must cease immediately, otherwise the recent release of some of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners cannot, in this oppressive pre-electoral climate, be seen as anything more than a decorative measure" declared Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

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