The stage is set for another protester-police confrontation in the Azerbaijani capital. Activists plan to gather in downtown Baku on January 12 to condemn the recent death of an army conscript, Private Ceyhun Qubadov, and to raise awareness about non-combat deaths in the Azerbaijani military.
As of January 11, over 13,600 Facebook users had indicated that they would go to the event, but it is unclear if the offline rally will be a wide as the online one.
Azerbaijan’s state machinery and pro-government media have been put in motion in response to the Facebook-organized event. The Interior Ministry said that any unsanctioned rally would be prevented, which in Azerbaijani police parlance usually translates into “Demonstrators will be beaten, arrested and fined.”
To keep Baku's glamorized downtown protest-free, municipal officials do not allow rallies in the heart of the city, but the demonstrators nonetheless plan to gather in the central Fountain Square.
On January 11, pro-government media also released a statement from the deceased soldier’s mother, who requested that her son’s death not be used for political reasons and spoke against the rally. “I trust in the Azerbaijani state, its President Ilham Aliyev and hope that . . . all the culprits will be punished,” said Samira Qubadova.
Army officials initially said that the private, in his late teens, died of a heart attack at his military base, but after Qubadov's parents released photos of his body, bearing signs of violence, a criminal investigation was launched. Several senior military officers were dismissed or demoted; two individuals have been arrested.
Army violence is believed to account for dozens of non-combat deaths in the Azerbaijani military. Almost in every case, officials, at least initially, blamed the deaths on diseases, while rights activists blame brutal hazing practices.