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Riot Police use excessive force to arrest residents protesting extreme quarantine regime in Baku

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On the morning of June 8, police raided a residential complex in Baku. 

People were arrested right from their apartments and taken away, wringing their hands, without even being given the opportunity to get dressed. 

The day before, they had thrown garbage and plastic bottles at police officers who were detaining a local resident for violating the quarantine regulations.

This is the result of the “weekend quarantine” in Azerbaijan. On Saturday and Sunday (June 6-7), residents of large cities were forbidden from leaving their homes for any reason whatsoever; even all stores and even pharmacies were closed. 

The authorities used this measure to try to stop the spread of COVID-19 infection. Their experiment failed. Home confinement combined with the abuses of power by police provoked aggression, depression and panic among the population.

Official statistics show that there are currently 7,553 reported cases of coronavirus in Azerbaijan. 4,149 people have recovered, 88 have died, 3,316 are still in treatment.

For two days, residents of several large cities and the entire Absheron Peninsula were not permitted to leave their houses, even to throw out trash, walk their dog, or buy headache or heartburn medicine. Police cars poured into empty yards and detained violators, often treating them as dangerous criminals. In addition, the ambulance refused to go out on calls.



Over the course of these two days, social media users posted several videos of policeman chasing after citizens. Closer to night time, some people crawled out onto the roofs of their houses to get some air or even risked going out into the courtyard. The weekend quarantine ended up being very stressful for citizens of Azerbaijan.

On Monday, June 8, everything seemed to go back to normal—public transport had begun working again, as well as all shops, cafes, restaurants, and people returned to work.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs thanked citizens for their “understanding and compliance with the rules.”

But judging by social media,  citizens themselves have not yet gotten over the events of the past two days. Footage of “rebellious” residents being detained left many in shock.

11 in total were detained. No official charges have yet been pressed.

“Those who carried out illegal mass detainments in the housing complex must be punished immediately. The long-standing social contract (limiting human rights in exchange for the miserly distribution of oil revenues) is already no longer in effect and the country risks becoming a police state,” says leader of the opposition Republican Alternative Party Ilgar Mammadov.

But the police also have their supporters:

“No one who followed the rules were detained by the police, they didn’t drag them out of their houses. You might think the police enjoy working on Sundays in 35 C degree heat. They are just fulfilling their duty. And throwing trash on their heads is, at the very least, classless,” writes journalist Sabukhi Mammadli.

It is still unknown whether authorities plan to enforce the Sunday lockdown at the end of this week. Whether the police will learn from their mistakes and shortcomings is also unclear.

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Government in Azerbaijan threatens activists abroad with Interpol, again

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On September 8, seven Azerbaijani dissidents who now live in various cities across Europe were targeted by the government of Azerbaijan. In addition to being formally charged with a crime in their absence and arrest warrants issued, the authorities have vowed to ask Interpol for their extradition.

The story goes back to last year when an Azerbaijani blogger, Elvin Isayev was extradited to Azerbaijan from Ukraine. Isayev lived in Russia since 1998 and was known for his critical views of the government. He acquired Russian citizenship in 2001. 19 years later, a court in St. Petersburg ruled to strip him of Russian citizenship and expel him. The following month Isayev moved to Ukraine, after an interim measure of the European Court of Human Rights called “Rule 39” suspended his deportation. Three months later he went missing only to appear in Azerbaijan where the Azerbaijan State Migration Service claimed Isayev was deported, a statement that was later refuted by Ukraine’s State Migration Service which said it never ordered Isayev’s deportation.

Few days after his “arrival” in Azerbaijan, Isayev was charged with calling for mass riots and public incitement against the ruling government. Now, the Prosecutor General office is seeking the deportation of seven men accusing them of the same crimes.

Ordukhan Babirov, Gurban Mammadov, Orkhan Agayev, Rafel Piriyev, Ali Hasanaliyev, Tural Sadigli, and Suleyman Suleymanli have been now charged in their absence. Many of these men are known for their online media activism, managing popular opposition YouTube channels, and for organizing street protests across European capitals in support of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, highlighting human rights violations and other advocacy engagements. One of the targeted men, popular activist, Ordukhan Babirov (known as Ordukhan Temirkhan Babirov) wrote in a Facebook post “[…] how many more times are they are going to give my name to Interpol”.

This is not the first time, the government in Azerbaijan is resorting to Interpol. But according to Interpol, “[it] cannot compel the law enforcement authorities in any country to arrest someone who is the subject of a Red Notice. Each member country decides what legal value it gives to a Red Notice and the authority of their law enforcement officers to make arrests.

The persecution against activists at home and abroad is on-going. For years, the ruling Baku tried silencing dissident voices both inside the country through threats, intimidation, and arrests and abroad through public shaming campaigns, and targeting of remaining family members. 

A week ago, a court in Baku sentenced veteran dissident Tofig Yagublu to four years and three months in jail on bogus charges. A campaign calling for his freedom #FreeTofigYagublu and #TofiqYaqubluyaAzadliq was launched and many of the targeted activists mentioned in this story have been rallying behind the campaign. Similarly, a youth activist who is among the organizers of the September 9 rally in support of Yagublu, was also targeted online and blackmailed. 

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Did the Azerbaijani public and government pass the “coronavirus test”?

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The number of people who have “officially” recovered from COVID-19 in Azerbaijan is quickly approaching the total number of infected, and on May 4, the country plans to finally end the quarantine. What has happened in Azerbaijani society over the past one to two months?

In short, for the people of Azerbaijan, the coronavirus itself seemed to be the least of their concerns. Their emotions were directed not towards the illness, but towards fellow citizens and the authorities. And what they expressed was mostly fear and anger. Let’s try to understand why this happened.

Azerbaijan reported its first case of COVID-19 in late February. By early April, the country had been put under a strict quarantine, and the public’s attitude changed from slightly wary to apathetic and irritated.

The reactions of the Azerbaijani public can be categorized into a few main groups:

Reaction 1. People vs authorities: fear and hatred

First of all, the emergency situation exacerbated the long-standing conflict between a significant part of society and the authorities. Almost all the actions of the government over the past two months have caused many either fear, indignation, or mistrust.

This applies to quarantine in hospitals (complaining about the terrible conditions), the restriction on public transport, followed by its complete closure, and tiny support payments given to the population, the incomprehensible system they used to determine who was eligible for these payments, and much more.

Those dissatisfied with the government’s work say that some measures did not work at all, while others worked poorly, and that the legality of all measures taken was questionable from a constitutional point of view.

And, as per usual, the protests never got farther than heated discussions on social media.

The tourism industry was the first to suffer, followed by the service industry as a whole, and at the end of March, licenses from banks were revoked. Many experts attribute the hasty mitigation of quarantine measures in Azerbaijan to the enormous losses suffered by the economy

Reaction 2: We will help everyone ourselves

Several charitable campaigns were launched on Facebook to help the most vulnerable members of society. These are just Facebook pages where people post the contact information of those in need along with requests to help them, or, for example, a special payment card system, where people can donate funds so that those who do not have the money can buy the products they need in certain stores.

Reaction 3: Conspiracy Theorists

This is the reaction of skeptics who believe that the virus is just a carefully crafted ploy and some sort of global conspiracy.

This scepticism has taken root in normally sensible people. They argue quite reasonably that local the measures imposed by the authorities were inappropriately strict, that they used the situation to further their own agenda and manipulated the statistics of infections and recoveries.

Reaction 4. Apathy

Many in Azerbaijan simply do not intend to change their lifestyle just because of “some flu virus.” The low level of education in the country on the whole plays an important role here. The low income is a key factor as well, in a country where many people lack the savings to survive for even a month. They do not believe in the virus, they believe in hunger.

Even those who were initially afraid of getting sick began to get tired of quarantine simply because it was hard for them to be in a confined space.

Reaction 5. “Our people are not doing enough”

Those who are following all the rules and are really just afraid of getting sick began to feel hatred towards the “maskless” population. To them, the government measures, no matter how harsh, seem justified and necessary.

Some people say that for “these hard-headed people who don’t want to sit at home, there’s no other way” – in other words, that there is no other way to force Azerbaijanis to adhere to the safety rules.

Many residents of Baku faced a dilemma – take their families to their dachas or relatives in the village, or stay in the city, closer to hospitals and banks? The residents of Baku’s villages were in a favorable position – if there is a garden at the house, it is easier to quarantine there.

Why is there no unified consensus?

What did this situation reveal about Azerbaijani society?

Philosopher Rahman Badalov believes that the quarantine merely exposed the deep systemic crisis that has been around since long before the coronavirus, and that in the future, this crisis will only continue to grow.

“Our government has long forgotten about its constitutional duties, and sees its responsibility towards the people as a kind of paternalism. This principle has long been recognized not just as erroneous, but destructive.

Among other things, such a principle fosters a demanding attitude in citizens, they get used to this type of ‘care’ and, paradoxically, they are always dissatisfied, because they constantly think that they are missing out out on something, thereby they turn into spectators in their own country.

The other side of the coin is that citizens turn out to be very timid and obedient, because they get used to the fact that only those in power have power (a not insignificant tautology).

As for the measures taken by the government, they could be met with approval if they were implemented in the legal field, and not as part of the same ‘paternal care.’ The lack of legal awareness among the population is not a justification for the authorities neglecting proper legal procedure.”

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Riots Report Shows London Needs To Maintain Police Numbers, Says Mayor

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A busy man keeps working while he waits. | Image: Unsplash

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A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table – Samsa was a travelling salesman – and above it there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame. It showed a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer.

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One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections.

A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I enjoy with my whole heart. Even the all-powerful Pointing has no control about the blind texts it is an almost unorthographic life One day however a small line of blind text by the name of Lorem Ipsum decided to leave for the far World of Grammar. The Big Oxmox advised her not to do so, because there were thousands of bad Commas, wild Question Marks and devious Semikoli, but the Little Blind Text didn’t listen.

His room, a proper human room although a little too small, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls. A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table – Samsa was a travelling salesman – and above it there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame.

It showed a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer. Gregor then turned to look out the window at the dull weather. Drops of rain could be heard hitting the pane, which made him feel quite sad.

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