Azeris Defy Protest Ban Using Facebook to Rally Over Army Death

Azeri protesters defied a ban on demonstrations to rally against violence in the former Soviet republic’s army after a conscript died this week. About 50 people were taken into police custody.

The activists, who gathered support through the Facebook Inc. social network, chanted “Stop killings of soldiers” and “Stop turning the army into a morgue” while marching through Fountains’ Square and central Baku today before riot police dispersed them.

The Facebook campaign, which was joined by nearly 17,000 people as of today, was prompted by the Jan. 7 death of an 18-year-old conscript, Ceyhun Qubadov, at an army base in the western Daskasan district. Qubadov’s mother said he was beaten to death, according to video statements on the social network.

An army commander was reprimanded and criminal proceedings initiated, the Defense Ministry said yesterday on its website.

About 350 to 400 people attended the rally, Ehsan Zahidov, a spokesman for the police, said by phone. About 20 of those detained were released, and the remaining 30 may face fines or short jail terms.

Energy-rich Azerbaijan’s army, largely conscript-based, lost 77 soldiers in non-combat incidents last year, Jasur Sumarinli, head of the Doctrine Center of Military Studies, said by phone from Baku yesterday. Many of the deaths were caused by hazing and illness, he said.

Military service is mandatory for all men aged 18 to 35 in the Caspian Sea nation, which has a population of 9 million. The government has rejected calls to move to an all-volunteer force because of a military standoff with neighboring Armenia.

President Ilham Aliyev, who took over from his father in disputed elections in 2003, is expected to run for a third term in office in the planned presidential election in October. Heydar Aliyev had led Azerbaijan for the better part of three decades before dropping his re-election bid in favor of his son in 2003 because of ill health.

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