Azerbaijan jails critics of Karabakh offensive

Sept 22 2023
Sep 22, 2023

The Azerbaijani government has begun arresting anti-war activists in the country following its offensive to take over Nagorno-Karabakh. 

At least five people known for publicly criticizing the attack were arrested in the last few days, and one's whereabouts is unknown.

In the weeks preceding the offensive, Azerbaijani state-run and government-aligned media had mounted a smear campaign against the country's small community of anti-war voices that emerged after the Second Karabakh War in 2020.

The first reported detention was of former Azerbaijani diplomat Emin Shaig Ibrahimov. He was arrested on September 20 and placed in administrative custody for a month for "spreading prohibited information," according to his lawyer Agil Layic. 

Layic quoted his client as saying that he was taken from his home by plainclothes officers pretending to be utility workers, and that his house was raided without a warrant, with his laptop and cell phones confiscated. 

"The real reason for his arrest is his use of social media for expressing his views and criticism," Layic said, quoting his client. 

Ibrahimov has long been known for his skeptical social media posts about Azerbaijan's activities vis-a-vis Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. In his last Facebook post before his arrest, he reiterated his belief that Azerbaijan's blockade of the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, its installation of a checkpoint on that road, and launch of the latest assault, were all agreed with Russia, which has peacekeeping contingent in the Armenian-populated region. 

On the same day, another outspoken critic of Azerbaijan's war efforts, Amrah Tahmazov, was put in jail for a month on the same charges. Tahmazov is known for his opposition to the 2020 war (in which Azerbaijan retook most of the territory it had lost in the first war in the 1990s) and the Azerbaijani government in general. In May too, he served a one-month administrative sentence after he wrote a Facebook post criticizing President Ilham Aliyev in defense of a fellow hunger-striking activist. 

A day earlier, activist Javid Ahmadov was summoned to the State Security Service, and released after reportedly being interrogated for four hours about his anti-war stance. 

Nemat Abbasov, another activist who is himself a veteran of the 2020 war, was detained on September 20 for a month on charges of disobeying the police. He had written on Facebook that "[a]ny mentality that legitimizes human deaths is stupid and wicked. Whatever their intention, thoughts that serve hatred, death, and any such concepts must be rejected." 

A day later, journalist Nurlan Gahramanli was arrested for a month on charges of spreading prohibited information. His friends who attended his hearing said he told the court that he had been beaten by officers of the prosecutor's office. He is quoted as saying that he believes his arrest was because of his anti-war posts.

On September 13, before the offensive, Gahramanli had told VoA that he had been summoned to the State Security Service and threatened with rape for his posts condemning Baku's apparent plans for a new offensive

Another activist, Afiaddin Mammadov, was arrested on charges of hooliganism and intentionally causing damage to a person's health. His supporters say it was a set-up. According to one fellow activist, he found himself in the vicinity of a person who had stabbed himself, he (Mammadov) was then punched in the face so he could not leave the scene and had the knife forcibly placed in his hand so it would have his fingerprints. 

Another government critic, Movsum Mammadov, was reportedly summoned to the prosecutor's office in Kurdamir, a town in central Azerbaijan, two days ago. His whereabouts have been unknown since then. In his most recent Facebook posts, he mocked the launch of the new war and lamented the loss of soldiers' lives. 

The Azerbaijani government has never been at ease with those calling for peace or criticizing the country's stance on the Karabakh conflict. During the 2020 war, several peace activists were summoned to the State Security Service, though none were arrested at that time. 

In September last year, following Azerbaijan's attacks on Armenian territory, pro-government media started a campaign against oppositionists who condemned the offensive, calling them traitors. One young politician, Ahmad Mammadli, known for his anti-war calls, was placed in administrative detention at the time. 

And most recently, on the eve of the latest offensive, Azerbaijani media resumed its smear campaign against anti-war activists. 

"During the recent war [President] Aliyev has also continued his usual business of imprisoning his critics," Altay Goyushov, historian and government critic, posted on X (formerly Twitter). "Several peace activists including Amrah Tahmazov were locked behind bars yesterday. Amrah is accused of violating the internet rules of Azerbaijan, which in the language of local authorities means that he caused troubles to Aliyev’s propaganda ring."