By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
BAKU, Azerbaijan – On Thursday, 22 March, international rights advocates condemned Azerbaijani authorities for detaining two rock musicians for criticizing President Ilham Aliyev and his deceased mother on Saturday, 17 March, during a concert at an opposition rally in Baku, the country’s capital. This police action raises doubts about Azerbaijan’s suitability to host the Eurovision Song Contest this May.
When an unidentified man attacked the band Bulistan after singer Jamal Ali used harsh language, the police arrested 24-year old Ali, bass player Natig Kamilov, and protest planner Etibar Salmanli. The police detained and supposedly tortured the musicians and Mr. Salmanli, who tried to separate the fighters.
The men were charged with “petty hooliganism.” A court sentenced Mr. Ali to 10 days of administrative detention, Mr. Kamilov to 6 days, and Mr. Salmanli to 5 days. The men remained detained in a district police station where the alleged beating occurred rather than a special detention facility.
At their closed hearing, the musicians asserted the police denied them contact with their lawyers and families while in detention. Yesterday, the appellate court upheld the men’s sentences.
Anar Gasimli, the musician’s attorney, reported that the police beat his clients upon arrest and at the police station. The authorities also prevented Mr. Gasimli from private and timely consultation with his clients before the hearing.
The judge requested the district prosecutor investigate the torture claims after seeing Mr. Ali’s facial bruises, large bump on his nose, and several scratches on his forehead. Although Mr. Kamilov stated the police beat him until he became unconscious and witnesses told HRW the police dragged him by his hair, the court denied his request for an investigation.
Mr. Gasimli stated that due to public holidays in Azerbaijan this week, “the prosecutors are not conducting an investigation” of the beatings.
Azerbaijan received the privilege of hosting Eurovision after its singers Ell and Nikki won last year’s contest. Local campaigners hope the media addresses claims that the oil-rich country violates freedom of speech and civil rights while broadcasting the competition. The government plans to have the contest highlights its economic growth. The nation has spent millions of dollars as an investment that the event runs smoothly.
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) and Amnesty International requested the government investigate the brutality allegations. John Dalhuisenm, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, said, “It’s deeply ironic that only two month before Baku takes the world stage for the Eurovision, Azerbaijani authorities are using force to break up and silence musicians performing at a peaceful protest.”
For further information, please see:
AFP – Rights Groups Slam Azerbaijan Rock Band Arrests – 22 Mar 2012
Belfast Telegraph – Azerbaijan Warms Up For Eurovision By Torturing Musicians – 22 Mar 2012
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – Azerbaijani Court Upholds Jail Sentence For Rock Star – 22 Mar 2012
Alert Net – Azerbaijan: Investigate Alleged Ill-Treatment By Police – 21 Mar 2012