Azerbaijanis can now only leave their homes after receiving permission by SMS from the police, or if they have a special certificate of employment. On April 5, the government imposed “strict limitations on the movement of citizens” in order to combat COVID-19.
The government has yet to declare a state of emergency, and these restrictions are officially called a “strict quarantine regime,” which brings into question the legality of some of the restrictions imposed.
Small and medium-sized businesses are suffering enormous losses, and the authorities promise to support the victims of the epidemic.
They also promise to pay around $112 each to 200 thousand registered unemployed people within the next two months.
Official data from the morning of April 5 states that there are 602 cases of Covid-19 infection reported in Azerbaijan. Seven have died, and 32 have recovered. Baku is still the epicenter of the infection in Azerbaijan, but there are reported cases in almost all other regions of the country.
Three reasons to leave home
The system works like this: before going out, you must text their identification number to a special phone number, indicating the reason why you are leaving home.
There are three options to choose from:
- to receive medical treatment;
- to buy medicine or groceries, or visit the bank or post office;
- to attend the funeral of a close relative.
You then receive an SMS in response giving permission to leave, which you can show to a police officer if you are stopped in the street.
After the first day, people are already more or less accustomed to the new system, and they say that the response is almost immediate.
But some complain that police officers are fining passersby for minute or far-fetched violations.
The restrictions also apply to the movement of cars, use of which is prohibited “without special need,” and all passengers must have received permission to leave the home.
Perplexed dog owners are confused about how to get permission to walk their dogs. Therefore, walking dogs is currently “illegal” in Azerbaijan, unless, for example, you are walking them to the grocery store.
People reacted to this new restriction with a mix of irony and indignation.
Some found this measure unreasonably harsh and accused the state of taking a totalitarian approach in an attempt to replenish the treasury with fines. “Congratulations, we will soon live in a dystopia,” they wrote on social networks.
Others, on the contrary, supported the new measure and said that it was necessary to force “less conscientious” residents of Azerbaijan to stay home, otherwise it will prove impossible to stop the spread of the virus.
Businessmen and unemployed people will receive compensation, but continue to pay bills
One of the main complaints citizens had against the authorities was that they stalled for a long time while preparing a support package for corporations and those who were left without as a direct result of the coronavirus situation.
The support package promises to compensate businesses who were forced to close due to the quarantine by paying half of the employees’ wages for a two-month period so that they can keep their staff.
Businessmen will also be given lines of credit, but the loan payments themselves will not be suspended. Neither will utility payments, and although a discount will be given, it is too small to be substantial.
As for the unemployed, they will be paid 190 manat [about $ 112] for a two-month period (the official cost of living). This program will support around 200 thousand people who will register as unemployed. You can register as unemployed on a special site.
The government will also help students from low-income families pay for their studies.
Economist Togrul Mashalli believes these measures are insufficient and will not provide real help to those suffering financially because of the quarantine regime.
As a part of the quarantine regime, the metro, parks, and squares are also closed, and most businesses and organizations have had to suspend operations. People over the age of 65 are generally prohibited from leaving the house.
Azerbaijani oil prices decline
The price of Azeri LT CIF Augusta, produced at the Azeri-Chirag-Deepwater Gunashli (ACG) oil field amounted to $18.6 per barrel on April 24, which is $0.14 less compared to April 23, Trend reports with reference to the country’s oil and gas market.
The price of Azeri LT FOB Ceyhan amounted to $16.56 per barrel on April 24, which is $0.12 less compared to April 23.
Azerbaijan has been producing Azeri LT since 1997 and exporting it via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) and Baku-Supsa Western Export Pipeline, as well as by rail, to the Georgian port of Batumi.
Azerbaijan also sells its URALS oil from the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, delivering it through the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline.
The price of URALS with shipment from the port amounted to $17.32 per barrel on April 24, which is $0.1 less compared to April 23.
The cost of a barrel of Brent Dated oil, produced in the North Sea, amounted to $16.01 per barrel, indicating a decrease of $0.29.
(1 USD = 1.7 AZN on April 25)
Six more opposition activists arrested in Azerbaijan
Six more opposition activists have been sentenced to administrative detention in Azerbaijan in the latest of a series of arrests of members of the opposition.
On Friday, Nijat Abdullayev, a member of the Supreme Council of the opposition Popular Front Party, was sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention.
The party reported that he was detained by men in civilian clothes while travelling to a grocery store near his home.
A day earlier, Faig Amirli, financial director of opposition newspaper Azadlig and assistant to the head of the opposition Popular Front Party, Ali Karimli, was also sentenced to 30 days.
His wife, Lala Amirli, reported on Facebook on Wednesday that three cars pulled up near their house and the men inside ‘grabbed him by the neck’ and put him in a car and drove away.
Later that day, two other Popular Front Party members — Ali Karimli’s bodyguard, Ruslan Amirli, and video blogger Natig Izbatov — were also sentenced to 30 days.
Two members of the Azerbaijan Democracy and Welfare Movement (ADR), Shakir Mammadov and Vafadar Aliyev were also sentenced to 15 and 30 days on Monday and Tuesday respectively.
All six men were found guilty by the court of violating the quarantine regime.
The Popular Front Party stated that the arrests were politically motivated.
According to the Administrative Code, violation of a quarantine regime is punishable by fines of ₼100–₼200 ($60–$120) or detention for up to 1 month.
Opposition youth activist ‘warned’
On Wednesday, Ilkin Rustamzade, one of the leaders of pro-democracy youth movement NiDA, reported on Facebook that he expected he might soon be arrested.
Rustamzade, who recently moved to a rented flat with his wife, said police officers showed up to his parents’ house, where he is registered, earlier that day. After not finding him there, he said officers took his father to a police station before releasing him shortly after.
According to Rustamzade, the police claimed he had violated the quarantine regime by moving to another flat.
He said police officers later came to his flat and surrounded the building, but that he refused to leave demanding an official request.
‘I moved to the new flat on 2 April and left the house only once by notifying authorities by SMS. Of course, it’s not about the quarantine rules […] it is the continuation of repression against me’, he said.
According to Rustamzade, ‘about 10 days ago’ he launched a petition urging the government to allocate social benefits to the public and to cancel bank loans and communal bills.
He said that several days later, he received a message on social media from a fake profile who presented himself as a ‘man of the intelligence service’, and warned him that if he did not stop the petition, they would ‘do very filthy things to my wife’.
Later that day, Rustamzade said that dozens of fake profiles on social media had started writing insulting posts about him and his wife. He said a profile of his wife was created on an escort website.
Later, he reported that their landlord had demanded they move out.
On Thursday, Amnesty International condemned the harassment of Rustamzade and his family.
‘Recently, the Azerbaijani authorities have used the COVID-19 pandemic to increasingly crack-down on their critics’, their statement said.
‘As the arrests and politically motivated prosecution of critics continue, Azerbaijan remains closed to human rights scrutiny.’
Rustamzade was pardoned in March 2019 after serving six years in prison on charges of hooliganism, and later ‘inciting violence and organising mass disorder’, for planning a peaceful protest in 2013.
In a statement on Friday, the National Council of Democratic Forces, an opposition coalition, said the government had been ramping-up its repression of the opposition during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They urged the Azerbaijani people and the international community to loudly condemn ‘these anti-national and anti-human acts’ and to organise a strong protest campaign to stop the policy.
A new wave of repression
In a speech delivered on 19 March, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called any opposition group that did not enter ‘into dialogue’ with the authorities, ‘traitors and corrupt representatives of a fifth column’.
‘Look at what they say on social networks, they are full of hatred and provocation. They seem to want riots to happen. They want turmoil. They want panic’, Aliyev said.
He added that if a state of emergency were to be declared due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the ‘isolation of representatives of the fifth column’ would become ‘a historical necessity’.
Ali Ahmadov, the deputy chair of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, wrote on Facebook on 23 March that there were ‘two viruses’ in Azerbaijan, COVID-19 and the ‘political virus’ that was the opposition, specifically Ali Karimli. He wrote that the two should be fought against at ‘the same time’.
The National Council of Democratic Forces condemned Aliyev’s speech, calling it ‘fascist’. They also accused Aliyev of planning false ‘plots’ that would give him justification for repressing the opposition.
Two days after Aliyev’s speech, Samir Babayev, a member of the opposition Muslim Unity Movement, was the first opposition activist to be arrested during the pandemic.
He was detained while he and other members of the movement distributed medical masks and information brochures about COVID-19 outside a central metro station in Baku. He was placed under administrative arrest for one month.
The following day, Tofig Yagublu, an opposition politician from the Musavat Party, was sentenced to three months in prison on the charges of hooliganism.
Later that day, Anar Malikov, a member of the Popular Front Party, was placed under administrative arrest for 10 days accused of ‘violating quarantine’.
Popular Front Party leader Ali Karimli called Babayev, Yagublu, and Malikov, ‘coronavirus prisoners’.
[Read more on OC Media: Azerbaijan arrests opposition activists during COVID-19 outbreak]
Georgia coronavirus cases reach 385
The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Georgia has reached 385, according to local media.
So far, 3 patients have died from the infection and 84 others have recovered in Georgia.
Georgia confirmed the first case of coronavirus on February 26.
As many as 4,971 citizens are under quarantine.
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