Four Azeri Activists Jailed for Protesting Deaths in Army

An Azeri court sentenced four opposition activists to prison terms ranging from six to seven days for attending a demonstration yesterday in the capital of Baku to protest violence in the country’s armed forces.

Eighteen other participants in the rally, organized through Facebook Inc., were fined 200 manats ($254) to 600 manats. All four jailed protesters were from the main opposition group, People’s Front of Azerbaijan, the party said today on its website. The fined activists also included members of other opposition parties and groups, it said.

Riot police used water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse protesters chanting “No deaths in the army” in the central Fountains Square. More than 60 were detained, according to the organizers.

Fifteen soldiers have died this year in Azerbaijan’s mostly conscription-based army, according to an estimate by the non-governmental Doctrine Center of Military Studies, based in Baku. Most of the deaths were caused by illness and bullying, it said.

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

Amnesty International, a London-based rights group, criticized the dispersal of the rally and the arrests of youth activists.

“The violent dispersal of a peaceful protest in Azerbaijan is the latest in a string of attempts by authorities to silence dissidents ahead of presidential elections in October,” David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said today in a statement.