20/03/12 – ARTICLE 19 calls on the Azerbaijani authority to immediately allow access to three young activists who were detained after protests in Baku on Saturday March 17, 2012. Jamal Ali (rapper/singer), Natig Kamilov (guitarist) and Etibar Salmanli (blogger) are currently being held in Sabael District Police Office. Their lawyer Anar Gasimli has not been able to see or speak to his clients and there is considerable concern they have been subjected to torture and/or ill-treatment.
“The Azerbaijani authorities’ heavy handed measures in arresting these young activists highlight the dangers for those who wish to exercise their right to freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. This right encompasses speech that can be considered shocking, offensive or even disturbing. Arresting these three young people and refusing them access to their lawyer is of great concern and our fear is that they are being subjected to torture. If this is the case, Azerbaijan is in clear violation of its international commitments to human rights and must take immediate action to rectify the situation,” said Agnès Callamard, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19.
On March 17, 2012 musicians Jamal Ali, Natig Kamilov and Etibar Salmanli were taking part in an authorised opposition rally held in the village Bayil in the Garadagh district of the capital Baku. During a stage performance with his band Bulustan, Jamal Ali expressed solidarity with the 1,500-2000 demonstrators who had gathered to protest against government corruption.
Ali reportedly then used profanities to criticise Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family, which lead to his removal from the stage and subsequent arrest along with fellow band member Natig Kamilov. One of the organisers also on stage, Etibar Salmanli, head of the youth organisation Nida, tried to intervene but was subsequently also arrested. Witness accounts state that the detainees were badly beaten by police officers as they were taken from the demonstration area to the Sabail District Police Office by police car.
All three were charged with minor hooliganism under Article 296 of the Administrative Errors Code at Sabail District Court, and received administrative sentences that same day – Ali for 10 days, Kamilov for 6 and Salmanli for 5 days. However, they have since remained in Sabael District Police Office rather than being transferred to Binagadi prison, to serve their administrative sentences.
Their lawyer Anar Gasimli has not been allowed to see his clients since their arrest. Despite repeated requests, including on Monday March 19 and again on Tuesday March 20, he was refused and told this was for ‘protocol’ reasons. No information has been released about the current health condition of the detainees and there is mounting concern that they may have been tortured and are at further risk.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release Jamal Ali, Natig Kamilov and Etibar Salmanli from incommunicado detention, allowing for unimpeded access to a lawyer and if necessary a physician of their choice.
ARTICLE 19 condemns the use of violence to restrict freedom of expression and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that under no circumstances torture is used against detainees.
Photograph (c) Reuters.