Iranian Azeris protest Baku crackdown on Shias
Ethnic Azeris in northwestern Iran have held a rally to condemn the ongoing crackdown on Shia Muslims in the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Iran’s Fars news agency said on Thursday that Iranians gathered in front of Azerbaijan’s Consulate in the provincial capital city of Tabriz to denounce Baku’s intensified wave of arrests and the killing of Shias in Nardaran district, north of the Azeri capital.
The protesters, who were marking the demise of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), called on Azerbaijan’s government to stop its anti-Islamic moves and immediately release those arrested in Nardaran over the past days.
The demonstrators also urged the Iranian government and parliament to use “legal and diplomatic” channels to have pressure alleviated on the Shias in Azerbaijan.
Iranian lawmakers and other officials have censured Baku in recent days for the killing and arrest of Shias during religious ceremonies.
Azerbaijan began a fresh wave of attacks on the majority Shias on November 26 when security forces killed four members of the Movement for Muslim Unity (MMU) during a raid in the village of Nardaran. At least 14 people were nabbed in the raid, including the MMU leader Tale’ Bagirzade, who is also known as Sheikh Bagirov.
The MMU enjoys widespread public support as attested by the participation of thousands in a protest called by the movement near Baku against the detention of another leader Elchin Gasymov earlier this month. Police briefly arrested some members of the group.
In a later attack in Nardaran on December 3, policemen shot and killed five Shia Muslims and arrested 32 others.
Azerbaijan is a majority Shia state of more than nine million people, with Shias accounting for 85 percent of the population. The secular government of Aliyev suppressed a Shia-dominated popular uprising in 2010 amid international outcry over his heavy-handed crackdown.