Baku condemned for reaction to protests

March 15, 2011 at 2:11 PM
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BAKU, Azerbaijan, March 15 (UPI) -- Human Rights Watch complained authorities in Azerbaijan had closed-door trials for demonstrators who took part in peaceful protests last week.

Opposition protesters swarmed the streets of Baku last week calling on President Ilham Aliyev to resign. The protests were organized by the opposition Musavat movement, which said several of its members were whisked away by police.

Party leader Isa Qambar told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's service in Azerbaijan that last week's demonstrations were the most "powerful" in recent years. Police, however, showed "extreme brutality" when confronting demonstrators, he added.

Human Rights Watch said at least 30 people were given light prison sentences during closed-door trials last week though more than 100 were rounded up by riot police.

Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said calls for political freedom in Azerbaijan shouldn't land a person in jail.

"Azerbaijani authorities should immediately set free those detained for supporting the protests in Baku," she said in a statement. "Instead of jailing peaceful protesters, the authorities should be investigating police conduct during those rallies."

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