On June 1, 2020, authorities reportedly arrested a student at Baku State University (BSU) and fined several other students and activists, in connection with a protest in front of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Education.
On March 24, 2020, Azerbaijan enacted strict quarantine measures in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. In April, higher education institutions switched to online learning; however, students allege that online learning is not universally accessible in Azerbaijan, where many students don’t have adequate access to the internet.
On June 1, roughly ten members of student organization Tələbə tələbi (Student Demand), gathered in front of the Ministry of Education calling for the cancelation of summer exams due to inequitable access to classes, and demanding that students not be required to pay tuition for the second semester because of the financial burden many of their families faced as a result of COVID-19.
Officials at the Ministry of Education reportedly invited Rustam Ismailbeyli, a member of Student Demand and BSU student, and two other students, Allahverdi Hasanov and Zarifa Novruzova, to meet with them to discuss their demands. While Hasanov and Novruzova were permitted to leave the Ministry of Education, authorities reportedly arrested Ismailbeyli in the courtyard of the building. They then proceeded to arrest five other students, and brought all the students they had arrested to a police station in Baku. Ismayilbeyli was charged with “violation of the quarantine regime” and “insubordination to the police”, convicted in the Narimanov District Court, and reportedly sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. The other five students were each fined 100-200 manat ($58-118) for “violating the quarantine regime” and released.
On June 8, the Baku Court of Appeals reportedly rejected a complaint over the arrest of Ismailbeyli. On June 16, Ismailbeyli was reportedly released. As of this report, authorities have not publicly disclosed whether Ismailbeyli still faces any charges.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and prosecution of students in apparent retaliation for their nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Azerbaijan is a party. While state authorities have a right and duty to protect public health and safety, such actions must be undertaken with due regard for freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and academic freedom. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliating against nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.