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Journalists harassed by police while attempting to cover student protests

(IRFS/IFEX) - On 10 May 2009, Radio Liberty correspondent Durna Safarli, "Yeni Musavat" newspaper employees Afgan Mukhtarli and Layla Ilgar, and "Yukselish Namina" newspaper employee Elchin Hasanov were harassed by police when they attempted to cover protests by a group of local youths.

Khadija Ismayilova, director of the Baku bureau of Radio Liberty, told IRFS that Safarli was at Police Department #39 in Baku's Sabail District to get information about a group of youths who were arrested for holding a protest, when she was assaulted by police and insulted. "Police used inappropriate language towards Durna Safarli, who was trying to get information, and exerted physical pressure against her," said Ismayilova.

Mukhtarli told IRFS that he and Ilgar were also assaulted in front of the same police department office. "'Yukselish Namina' newspaper correspondent Elchin Hasanov, who was trying to help me, was subjected to physical pressure by police," said Mukhtarli, emphasizing that force was also used against Ilgar.

Hasanov told IRFS that he tried to intervene when he saw that police officers were about to strike Mukhtarli, but the police used force against him as well.

IRFS attempted to contact Sabail District Police Department #39 about these accusations but its calls to the police department went unanswered.

On 10 May, several groups of youths attempted to protest the commemoration of the national "Flower Holiday" on the heels of a recent school shooting at the State Oil Academy. The youths gathered at 1:30 p.m. (local time) in the National Park along the Caspian Sea ("the Boulevard") chanting "No to Flower Holiday!", "No to Terror!", and "Declare Mourning for the Slain Students!" Five of the youths were detained and taken to Police Department #39. IRFS witnessed the police officers dragging one woman into a police vehicle by her hair.

At 2 p.m. in Sahil Garden a group of 15-20 youths chanting the same slogans were detained. Azerbaijan Minister of Youth and Sport Azad Rahimov was on hand at the scene of this protest. When a journalist showed him a photograph of the police using force against one female protester, he said, "Be quiet, be quiet, why are you so upset?!" Another police officer cursed at an IRFS employee.

Jamil Hajiyev, a member of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party Youth Organization, told IRFS that police used force against him in Police Department #39. IRFS captured several photographs of people leaving Police Department #39 in bandages. Human rights defenders, including Elchin Behbudov, head of Azerbaijan's Committee Against Torture, gathered outside the police department.

Radio Liberty reports that at 2 p.m. on 10 May, 20 youths who wanted to lay flowers outside the State Oil Academy were detained by police in front of the nearby Central Bank (former National Bank) and taken to Nasimi District Police Department #22. Among those detained was Arjen de Wolff, Azerbaijan resident director of the National Democrats Institute.

Sabail Police Department #39 Operator Safarov (no first name given) told Radio Liberty that 30 youths were detained. A statement was taken from them and they were all warned and released by 5:30 p.m.

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