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Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović sent a letter to Interior Minister Vilayat Eyvazov expressing concern over police violence against peaceful gatherings and the dispersal of demonstrators during recent protests in Baku, CoE reported.

The Commissioner is concerned about the ban of peaceful protest in the center of Baku, administrative arrests and fines, ill-treatment of journalists covering the protests.

Peaceful demonstrators should not be sanctioned for being present and actively participating in the demonstration, and authorities should investigate injuries to demonstrators and journalists.

“It has also come to my attention that a number of protesters have been arrested prior to a planned demonstration and taken to remote locations by car or bus, sometimes several hundred kilometers away from Baku, thus preventing them from taking part in the protest. In addition, journalists covering the protests were reportedly mistreated by law enforcement officers during the dispersal of protests,” she said. “However, I am concerned that the latest restrictions imposed by the authorities constitute disproportionate interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly in Azerbaijan.”

“Firstly, I note that the notification procedure provided by the Azerbaijani legislation continues to be interpreted by the authorities as requiring prior permission to hold an assembly, which is not the case. However, in a number of judgments against Azerbaijan, the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) found that the legislation governing public assemblies lacked foreseeability and precision which resulted in banning or dispersal of public assemblies abusively by the authorities. In this regard, I should like to stress that, according to the Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly published by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), together with the Venice Commission, prior notification should only be required when its purpose is to enable the state to put in place necessary arrangements to facilitate freedom of assembly and to protect public order, public safety and the rights and freedoms of others. Any such legal provision should require the organiser of an assembly to submit a notice of intent rather than a request for permission.”

“It is also important to ensure that police officers operating in the context of demonstrations receive specialised training both on the negotiated management of assemblies and on the proportionate use of force in this context.”

In a response letter, Vilayat Eyvazov said that a group of people held protests in front of the CEC, where there is heavy traffic and high population density.

The organizers were invited to the police and were told that their actions were illegal. Despite this, on February 16, 120 people gathered in front of the CEC, trying to hold an illegal rally, violating the rights of citizens to rest and normal traffic.

Taking into account the continuous complaints to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of citizens living in this zone, police forces were sent to the place. Despite demands to stop the illegal action, organizers ignored the calls. 

Given this, the police detained the protesters, who were distinguished by “special aggressiveness, Eyvazov said.

Regarding the facts of violence against journalists, the Minister expresses surprise, saying that there was no violence against journalists at all, on the contrary, some journalists deliberately prevented the police from performing their functions.

Further, he noted the legislation of Azerbaijan is much more liberal and humane than the laws of several European countries.

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