BAKU—“I try not to cry so that I can be strong for my son,” mathematics teacher Sakina Gurbanova tells BBC’s Damien McGuinness, struggling to hold back the tears, as she shows me a picture of her son.
A handsome, smiling 27-year-old law graduate, Zaur was pulled off the street by plain-clothed policemen on 1 April. Since then he has been in jail awaiting trial, accused of possessing arms.
But his mother says their home was never searched for weapons and that he is being punished for criticising the government.
According to human rights groups, the charges are trumped up – an authoritarian government’s attempt to stamp out any Arab Spring-style uprising, they say. And now, faced with presidential elections in October, the authorities are accused of clamping down even more heavily.
New regulations mean that participants in anti-government demonstrations in the city centre face heavy fines worth more than the yearly earning of many Azeris. And tough new libel laws are criminalizing criticism online.