Arrests, Beatings Reported At Youth Rally In Baku

By RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service
Last updated (GMT/UTC): 17.03.2012 16:13
BAKU -- Eyewitnesses in Azerbaijan say three protesters were detained by police after being badly beaten during a sanctioned opposition protest on the outskirts of Baku.
Witnesses say the crackdown began after Camal Ali, the front man of the popular band Bulustan, used profanities to criticize Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev during a stage performance at the rally.
The profanities angered organizers, who began arguing with the band. Witnesses say the police then dragged Ali and a fellow band member, Natiq Kamilov, away.
A third man, Etibar Salmanli, the head of the Nida youth organization, was also detained. Witnesses say they later saw two of the detainees in a police car with blood on their faces and signs of beating. Others at the rally say they saw the police beating the men and dragging them by their hair.
Police and a doctor brought to the police station to see the three refused to comment on their condition. Local members of the Council of Europe's Committee to Prevent Torture went to the police station, but were not allowed to see the detainees.
The three detainees have since been taken to court to face charges.
See full reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service here (in Azeri, with video)
The rally brought together hundreds of opposition and youth activists to demand the release of political prisoners and the resignation of the government elite.
Police say an estimated 350 activists gathered for the demonstration, which took place amid unseasonably cold weather and far outside the city center. Despite the reported detentions, police say they recorded no major incidents of unrest during the demonstration.
Activists and an RFE/RL journalist at the site said more than 1,000 people participated in the rally.
The rally was organized by the Youth Rights Defense Committee. Participants chanted slogans of "Karabakh", "Freedom for political prisoners", "Education without bribe", and "Resign."
The Youth Rights Defense Committee includes the youth organizations of the Civil Solidarity, Popular Front, Democratic, and Musavat parties, as well as the Nida civic movement, the Dalgha, Azad, and Positive Change youth movements, and the Human Rights Club.
They are youth branches of opposition parties and independent youth organizations.
Representatives of local NGOs and members of the local office of the OSCE observed the demonstration.