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Azeri hijab advocates still behind bars

Authorities in Azerbaijan refuse to release demonstrators detained during protest rallies against the government’s ban on Islamic hijab at schools.

The protesters were arrested during the police crackdown on a Friday gathering outside the Ministry of Education in the capital Baku on accusations of hooliganism and resistance against police, an IRIB correspondent reported on Tuesday.

Nine of the detainees have been sentenced to five days in jail, while the lawyers for some of the inmates complain that their clients have been mistreated and even tortured.

On Friday, more than 1,000 people in Baku staged a demonstration against the government’s refusal to lift a ban on Islamic hijab and condemned its use of force against Muslim activists.

They also called for the resignation of Education Minister Misir Mardanov, who is seen as heading the anti-hijab campaign in Azerbaijan’s educational centers.

The rally was the latest in a series of pro-hijab protests ever since Mardanov’s announcement of the controversial ban in December, which sparked a nationwide outrage and triggered almost weekly street protests in front of the Education Ministry.

The peaceful demonstrations have been met with violent police intervention on all occasions.

In January, the Baku government made an attempt to smother the pro-hijab movement in the former Soviet republic by rounding up Muslim activists and pressing unsubstantiated charges against them.

Muslims account for nearly 98 percent of the population in Azerbaijan, and a ban on Islamic dress code is not included in the country’s constitution.

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