US chides Azerbaijan over crackdown on free speech

Azeri police in Baku, 10 Mar 13 There has been a show of force on the streets of Baku this year

Related Stories

The US government has criticised Azerbaijan for acting against a Western-funded pro-democracy project called the Free Thought University.

US Ambassador Richard Morningstar met the pro-democracy activists and said he was "troubled by the government's reaction to protests this year".

The chief prosecutor linked the project to a youth movement called N!DA, seven of whose members have been arrested.

The US ambassador condemned the arrest and interrogation of young activists.

"I was particularly disappointed to hear that authorities closed Free Thought University's office just last night," he said, adding that as "a friend of Azerbaijan" he wanted to see "government engagement with citizens, especially its young citizens, to address their legitimate concerns".

The chief prosecutor's office denied that the university had been closed, but said its officers had seized documents from the project.

The university's founders insist that it has "no affiliation with any other organisation".

Seven N!DA activists are being held on charges of possession of drugs and firearms, which can incur a penalty of five to eight years' imprisonment.

Local television broadcast confessional videos of the accused, who said they had wanted to "cause trouble" and throw petrol bombs at the police.

There have been several unusually big street protests in Azerbaijan this year - an election year for President Ilham Aliyev. Human rights groups have accused his government of stifling dissent and harassing journalists.

Crowds in the capital Baku twice protested against a rise in non-combat deaths in the army. They were dispersed by police using baton charges and water cannon.

Senior members of the ruling party have sharply criticised youth activists who organise on social networking sites, calling them "radical" and "wayward".

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Europe stories


Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Audi R8Best in show

    BBC Autos takes a look at 10 of the most eye-catching new cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show


  • A robotClick Watch

    The latest in robotics including software that can design electronics to solve problems

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.