Azerbaijan Opposition Leader Beaten While in Custody

Azerbaijan police violently dispersed a peaceful protest in central Baku, and detained dozens of protesters, including the opposition leader, Tofig Yagublu, the Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

Yagublu, 60, said police severely beat him while videoing him and demanding that he say on camera that he would stop criticizing Azerbaijan’s leadership, the Watchdog said.

“Azerbaijani authorities have yet again demonstrated brazen contempt for people’s right to hold peaceful protests and used violence to quash dissent,” said Giogri Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The authorities should conduct a prompt, impartial, and thorough investigation into law enforcement’s conduct and hold those responsible for abuses to account.”

Several dozen protesters gathered in central Baku on December 1 to demand the release of an opposition activist, Saleh Rustamov, who has been detained since 2018 and was sentenced in February 2019 to seven years in prison on spurious money-laundering charges.

Rustamov has been on a hunger strike since November 6, after parliament adopted an amnesty bill that is expected to release 3,000 prisoners but did not apply to his case.

Police released Yagublu hours later in the outskirts of Baku. His face and body showed clear signs of abuse. In a video interview, Yagublu said that police first took him to a police station, where several other police officers, who he said were with the Interior Ministry’s Organized Crime Unit, handcuffed him, put a bag over his head, and beat him.

They put him in a car and continued to beat him as they drove to the city’s outskirts, the Watchdog said in a statement.

In the video interview, Yagublu said “I have to lift my eyelids with my fingers to look around. They beat me mainly in the face, head, back, arms, shoulders.”

“The police dropped Yagublu on the roadside, 70 kilometers from central Baku. He managed to call his daughter, who picked him up. Yagublu has multiple injuries to his face and head. A doctor who examined Yagublu found bruises on his head,” according to the statement.

In a media statement, the Interior Ministry denied that police beat Yagublu or subjected him to any pressure, but stated that “the allegations will be investigated accordingly.”

“Yagublu’s horrific mistreatment was an attack on both an individual and the right to peaceful assembly,” Gogia said. “Given Azerbaijan’s poor record of addressing police abuses, the authorities need to ensure an effective, impartial investigation and hold to account those responsible.”

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