22 people charged over Ganja protests

A municipal building is seen at the main square in Ganja, Azerbaijan, July 12, 2018. Picture taken July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Staff

A municipal building is seen at the main square in Ganja, Azerbaijan, July 12, 2018. Picture taken July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Staff

Twenty-two people face trial over the Ganja protests, which broke out summer this year after an assassination attempt on then mayor Elmar Valiyev, according to a joint statement published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Security Service and the Prosecutor General’s Office on 3 December. The case has been handed over to the Ganja Court on Grave Crimes.

The statement identifies the accused as ‘a group of radical religious leaders’ who called for the rally to spark violence and civil unrest. The charges include inciting mass riots, using life-threatening violence against authorities as well as illegal purchase of weapons and drugs.

On the evening of 10 July, a week after mayor Elmar Valiyev and his bodyguard were wounded in a failed assassination attempt, a group of 200 people followed online calls to gather in the center of Azerbaijan’s second largest city. They demanded not only proper investigation into the attack on Valiyev - dismissed by authorities as part of an Islamist scheme to establish Sharia law in Azerbaijan - but also into his rule as mayor, reportedly notorious for corruption and abuse of power. Two police officers trying to disperse the crowd were killed, with authorities again blaming Islamist radicals.

Activists have criticized the on-going investigation into the events as non-transparent. With many details still unclear, the events gave rise to a number of different theories about the underlying causes and motives, including from officials. Until the end of July, 60 people were arrested, and four more were killed in the process.

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