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NIDA Activists Threatened with 12 Years in Prison
Azerbaijan, action created 4.6.2014, petition is active
Eight activists of the movement NIDA (NIDA in Azerbaijani means "exclamation point") were arrested for the peaceful exercise of fundamental human rights. In February 2011, a group of students founded the movement NIDA to promote socio-economic change to encourage democracy. NIDA currently has more than 350 members. From its founding, members of the movement were faced with problems with the police. The situation worsened in March 2013, when police arrested 90 activists during a peaceful demonstration, and some of them suffered serious injury. The arrest of NIDA activists comes as Azerbaijan takes the position as chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Europe's leading institutions in the field of human rights. What guidance will Azerbaijan be able to provide to the Council of Europe when their own country arrests and tortures peaceful demonstrators?
From January 2013, there have been increasing reports of torture, suicide and non-combatant deaths in the Azerbaijani military. Despite several requests from the relatives of the dead soldiers, the Azerbaijani government has refused to conduct effective investigation and has dismissed all allegations. Outraged by this, Shahin Novruzlu and his friends created an event on Facebook calling for a peaceful protest against the prevalent injustice in the country to be held on 10 March 2013.
Shortly after the Facebook event went public, the Azerbaijani government started the first wave of arrests. On 7 March 2013, Shahin and his friends and fellow youth activists Mammad and Bakhtiyar were kidnapped by unidentified people, later to be disclosed as representatives of the Ministry of National Security.
In searches carried out on 8 March, a day after their arrest, police claimed to have found three bottles of gasoline and illegal drugs at Shahin’s house, 19 Molotov cocktails and drugs at Bakhtiyar’s house, and more illegal drugs at Mammad’s house. As a result, they were formally charged with possessing illegal drugs and explosives.
Relatives living with the young activists are adamant that police planted the bottles and drugs during the searches.
On 9 March, national television in Azerbaijan aired “confessions” from the three activists, but later, Shahin, Bakhtiyar and Mammad revealed the “confessions” were extracted after they were subjected to severe psychological pressure and physical abuses during their initial questioning by officials from the Ministry of National Security on 7 March.
Shahin stated that he was tortured by the police. His four front teeth were knocked out as a result of the beatings he received during his interrogation on 7 March 2013. Shahin was 17 years old at that time.
Mammad, a 20-year-old, was also severely beaten. After the inflicted physical violence he could not walk for several days and lost hearing in one ear.
On 12 September, all eight NIDA activists were additionally charged with intent to “incite public disorder” during May 10 protests. They remain in Baku City Investigative Detention Centre and are facing 12 years in prison.
The Azerbaijani authorities have targeted civil and political activists for many years. Those taking a leading role in organising peaceful protests often become victims of arbitrary arrests and unfair trials on fabricated charges. Peaceful protests that criticize the government are often banned and dispersed by the police with excessive use of force. The authorities censor media and harass outspoken critics, while administrative defamation laws are extensively used to fine independent media outlets and suspend their work. Onerous restrictions are imposed on NGOs and their activities are obstructed.