Azerbaijan: Two musicians detained

20 March 2012

Two musicians and the leader of a youth organisation were detained after protests in the capital Baku on 17 March 2012. They are currently being held in Sabael District Police Office, and there is concern that they have been subjected to torture.

“Fresh doubts have been raised about the suitability of Azerbaijan to host May’s Eurovision Song Contest, as it emerged that two local musicians who insulted the country’s president during a concert may have been tortured by police over recent days,” wrote Shaun Walker from Moscow in Belfast Telegraph.

The problems began when rapper and singer Jamal Ali, 24-year-old frontman of the band Bulustan, criticised President Ilham Aliyev’s late mother during a concert at an opposition rally in Baku. After an argument with the organisers, he was beaten and dragged away by police along with the band’s guitarist and bass player Natiq Kamilov, 24, and the blogger Etibar Salmanli, 25, who is leader of the Nida youth organisation.

The rally had called for the Azerbaijani government to stop corruption in the education system, release political prisoners and end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Their Facebook page listed more than 1,000 attendees.

Testimony of torture
According to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Jamal Ali testified during a hearing on his case in a Court of Appeal on 21 March 2012 that he had been tortured by police officers:

“I said they beat me the last time, then they brought me in and beat again. Now that I said that, they will take me back and beat again,” said the singer in his testimony at the court. According to him, the police officers used sticks to beat the soles of his feet for two hours on 19 March. Jamal Ali asked to be released in the court.

The type of torture used against Jamal Ali is called foot whipping, or bastinado. Due to the clustering of nerves in the feet, this method is “effective” because it causes pain without leaving any marks. It is said to have been widely used in the Ottoman Empire, in China and in other Asian countries.

Natiq Kamilov said he was also beaten and that he was forced to write a testimony under dictation.
“I wrote whatever they told me. I wasn’t feeling well. They told me to write that I cursed. And I did. Then there was a pause and I used it to write that I didn’t.”

Natiq Kamilov also said the detainees are provided with food once, rarely twice a day.

Attourney Anar Gasimli requested a 10-minute one-on-one meeting with his client Jamal Ali, which he was not given for four days. However, the motion was denied after a police officer addressed the court, saying Gasimov can meet Ali only if he submits his cell phone, which the lawyer said was against the law.

The Court of Appeal denied motions to release the detainees on fine and confirmed the verdict by the Sabail Court.

Silencing musicians
Amnesty International called on the Azerbaijani authorities to launch an independent investigation:
“It’s deeply ironic that only two months before Baku takes the world stage for Eurovision, Azerbaijani authorities are using force to break up and silence musicians performing at a peaceful protest on the city’s streets,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. According to the organisation, 14 people are currently in prison in Azerbaijan in connection with anti-government protests.

“Azerbaijan sees the song contest as an opportunity to showcase the economic growth of the country, and has poured millions into ensuring the event goes smoothly. However, as the contest approaches, the arrest of the musicians is just the latest worrying sign of the heavy-handed way in which Mr Aliyev’s autocratic regime deals with dissent,” wrote Shaun Walker.

Clear violation of international commitments
The London-based rights-organisation Article 19 called on the Azerbaijani authority to immediately allow access to Jamal Ali, Natiq Kamilov and Etibar Salmanli, since their lawyer Anar Gasimli had not been able to see or speak to his clients. “There is considerable concern they have been subjected to torture and/or ill-treatment,” wrote Article 19 in a news alert.

“The Azerbaijani authorities’ heavy-handed measures in arresting these young activists highlight the dangers for those who wish to exercise their right to freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. This right encompasses speech that can be considered shocking, offensive or even disturbing. Arresting these three young people and refusing them access to their lawyer is of great concern and our fear is that they are being subjected to torture. If this is the case, Azerbaijan is in clear violation of its international commitments to human rights and must take immediate action to rectify the situation,” said Agnès Callamard, Article 19’s Executive Director.

Article 19’s news alert
The following message from Article 19 was distributed world-wide via the IFEX network:

On 17 March 2012, musicians Jamal Ali, Natiq Kamilov and Etibar Salmanli were taking part in an authorised opposition rally held in the village Bayil in the Garadagh district of the capital Baku. During a stage performance with his band Bulustan, Jamal Ali expressed solidarity with the 1,500-2,000 demonstrators who had gathered to protest against government corruption.

Ali reportedly then used profanities to criticise Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family, which lead to his removal from the stage and subsequent arrest along with fellow band member Natiq Kamilov.

One of the organisers also on stage, Etibar Salmanli, head of the youth organisation Nida, tried to intervene but was subsequently also arrested. Witness accounts state that the detainees were badly beaten by police officers as they were taken from the demonstration area to the Sabail District Police Office by police car.

All three were charged with minor hooliganism under Article 296 of the Administrative Errors Code at Sabail District Court, and received administrative sentences that same day – Ali for 10 days, Kamilov for 6 and Salmanli for 5 days. However, they have since remained in Sabael District Police Office rather than being transferred to Binagadi prison, to serve their administrative sentences.

Their lawyer, Anar Gasimli, has not been allowed to see his clients since their arrest. Despite repeated requests, including on Monday March 19 and again on Tuesday March 20, he was refused and told this was for ‘protocol’ reasons. No information has been released about the current health condition of the detainees and there is mounting concern that they may have been tortured and are at further risk.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release Jamal Ali, Natiq Kamilov and Etibar Salmanli from incommunicado detention, allowing for unimpeded access to a lawyer, and, if necessary, a physician of their choice. ARTICLE 19 condemns the use of violence to restrict freedom of expression and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that under no circumstances torture is used against detainees.

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Interview with Jamal Ali
Recorded at the demonstration on 17 March 2012 where he was arrested.


Short clip of Jamal Ali’s performance
Recorded at the demonstration on 17 March 2012.

A short recording of Jamal Ali’s performance begins at 3:11.


Latest news on this topic

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Belfast Telegraph – 22 March 2012:
‘Azerbaijan warms up for Eurovision by torturing musicians’

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – 22 March 2012:
[Video] Rokçu Camal Əli: ‘Dabanıma dubinka ilə 2 saat vurublar’

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – 22 March 2012:
‘Azerbaijani Court Upholds Jail Sentence For Rock Star’

Amnesty International – 21 March 2012:
‘Torture fears for Azerbaijani musicians after band insults President’s mother’

Foreign Policy Blogs – 20 March 2012:
‘Peaceful Activists Arrested, Amnesty International Reports Torture Fears’

IFEX – 20 March 2012:
‘Alert: ARTICLE 19 calls on authorities to ensure safety and security of detained activists’

IFEX – 7 March 2012:
‘As host of 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, Baku should let all voices be heard’


On 26 May 2012 Azerbaijan gets to play host to one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world, the Eurovision Song Contest.
The popular competition pits artists from 56 European countries, expected to be seen by 100 million television viewers.

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