On May 3, police detained five students peacefully protesting a decision by Azerbaijan State Economic University (ASEU) to revoke a policy that aided students taking exams amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
A small number of student activists from a group known as the “Student Power Center” gathered at the gates of ASEU holding a banner and chanting slogans against a decision by the administration to end a policy of providing exam questions to students ahead of the examination period. The policy was intended to assist students during the coronavirus pandemic. Students also reportedly demanded that the university lift a cap on the number of online classes students could skip. The activists alleged that the university threatened students for protesting against the university’s decision. ASEU’s head of public relations denied these allegations to the BBC.
Available sources indicate that police stopped the group of students while they marched down streets chanting and holding their banner. Police then began detaining the students, who include Ravan Akhundov, Ahmad Mammadli, Farid Jabbar, and Tukazban Gasimova; another activist, Rustam Ismayilbeyli, was also detained (their student status was not reported).
Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry press service commented on the incident, stating that no protesters were detained, but that students were removed from the area, purportedly to enforce a ban on rallies in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Videos and photographs of the protest show police loading student activists into the back of police vehicles. The protesters were reportedly released within several hours.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of students peacefully exercising the rights 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. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against expressive activities and assemblies so long as they are peaceful and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions in response to peaceful student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.