IPHR condemns use of force during environmental protest in the village of Soyudlu, Azerbaijan

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) condemns the excessive use of force by the police, the lockdown of the village, and the alleged arrest of activists and journalists and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to promptly investigate all allegations of violations related to the recent environmental protest in the village of Soyudlu in Gadabay District.

On 20 June, approximately one hundred residents of the village of Soyudlu, located in Gadabay District, gathered to protest against a mining corporation accused of polluting their local environment. Specifically, they gathered to  express their discontent over the creation of an artificial lake, which was created to be used as a repository for the mine’s acid waste, and to protest against plans to construct a second, similar artificial lake in the village. The protesters asserted that waste from the mines has caused significant damage to human health, welfare, and the natural environment of the region.

In a distressing demonstration of excessive force, riot police forcibly dispersed the peaceful protest using means such as tear gas, pepper spray, and physical violence. The aggressive actions of the riot police, documented and disseminated widely online, have resulted in dozens of individuals being detained and the arrest of a further 10 (of which the identities of seven have already been established due to court judgments), who have subsequently faced administrative arrest, with one protester subjected to an administrative penalty. Upwards of 30 individuals have reported a variety of injuries sustained as a result of this display of police brutality. These incidents constitute a severe breach of human rights and highlight the urgent necessity to advocate on behalf of the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression.

The demonstrations persisted over the subsequent days, yet access to and from the village of Soyudlu was obstructed from 21 June onwards. Several journalists attempting to document the events were detained and interrogated. Notably, journalists Nigar Mubariz, Nərgiz Absalamova, and Elsever Muradzade, who had found alternate routes to Gadabay in order to shed light on the events there, were allegedly assaulted by police officers. Furthermore, two other journalists, Giyas Ibrahim and Elmir Abbasov, were detained for 20 and 30 days, respectively, in retaliation for critical remarks posted on their social media. Following the arrest of Abbasov, the police put pressure on other members of NIDA, a civic movement to which Abbasov belonged. Several NIDA members have already been summoned to the police and asked to delete Abbasov’s critical posts. On 23 June, Ulvi Hasanli, co-founder of Abzas Media, was detained for several hours at Binagadi Police Station, where he was repeatedly asked to delete a Facebook status critical of the authorities handling of the lockdown and their excessive use of force against the protestors. The same day, journalist Elmaddin Shamilzade, who had recently visited Soyudlu to cover the protests, was detained in unknown circumstances. Before communication was lost with Shamilzade, he posted the word “işgəncə” with typos), meaning “torture”.  His colleagues have since been unable to reach him.

IPHR strongly urges the Azerbaijani authorities to launch a comprehensive, impartial, and effective investigation into the alleged incidents of excessive force against the protesters and the reported physical abuse in detention. We also urge them to guarantee that all individuals detained in relation to these protests have the freedom to choose their legal representation and access to necessary medical assistance. It is equally vital to ensure that media outlets are permitted to report on the events without interference. We further implore the authorities to restore full and uninterrupted access to the village of Soyudlu. We likewise condemn the reported heavy-handed and brutal interferences into the legitimate work of journalists and critical activists who dared to speak out about the excessive police force described. These actions stand in direct contradiction to  accepted standards of freedom of assembly and free expression.