Baku’s recent apparent relaxation of its approach to dissent has only been temporary and cosmetic, according to local activists.
For a brief period in January, the authorities appeared to be softening their stance on protest. They took the rare move of sanctioning an official rally, held on January 19, in support of jailed blogger Mehman Huseynov and other political prisoners.
Then, two days later, new charges against Huseynov that would have extended his prison term were dropped. He will be released in early March as soon as he serves his current two-year sentence.
However, in the wake of the rally, hundreds of its attendees were telephoned by police. Journalist Ramin Deko, one of those contacted, said he believed that cellphone companies had provided the authorities with data on people whose phones were detected in the area.
“I got a call to a number that is known to a very small circle of people, and exactly on that day I communicated with my editor on this number,” he said.