How Azerbaijan violates the rights of the political imprisoned

Azerbaijani media often write about the rough treatment that politicians, journalists, religious activists and trade union members face during detention. They aren’t allowed to contact lawyers now inform relatives they’ve been detained. Applying physical and psychological pressure, the police try to force them to confess to acts they did not commit. And sometimes the police, not even considering it necessary to prove these crimes, immediately transfer the case to the court, and the judge, in turn, without understanding the case, issues a decision on detention.

Former political prisoners, as well as relatives and friends of those currently in detention, told Meydan TV that the violations of rights are not limited to this, and even after the arrest, they are also treated differently than other prisoners in the pretrial detention center.

“They hit me on my head and neck.”

Araz Aliyev

Araz Aliyev, a member of the NIDA civil movement and co-founder of the political platform “Third Republic”, sentenced to 25 days of administrative arrest in December 2023, says that during his detention he faced physical pressure from the police in civilian clothes. Accusing Aliyev of the fact that he, allegedly, fought on the street and did not obey the police, they drew up a protocol under articles 510 (minor hooliganism) and 535.1 (disobedience to the legal demand of a police officer) of the Code of Administrative Offenses.

Araz Aliyev:

“Unfortunately, serious physical violence, insults, and humiliating treatment are currently Azerbaijani realities. I happened to encounter them. People in civilian clothes who did not introduce themselves kidnapped me, showering insults and using violence against me. I was hit in the stomach and legs. Later, the same and even more harsh treatment continued during my illegal interrogation in the 24th police department. They didn’t allow me to use the restroom and they hit me on my head and neck. The interrogation lasted 4-5 hours and during all this time neither my lawyer nor family members were informed, and emotional and psychological pressure methods were used against me.

Illustration: Meydan TV

Despite the fact that I did not commit any offenses, I was required to sign a confession. And even though I didn’t do this, they took me to court, and I still didn’t tell my lawyer or my family. In court, the state defender appointed to me did not try to defend me at all, but on the contrary, he showed me to be guilty. The court did not accept my personal petitions, the questions I asked false witnesses remained unanswered, and the judge frankly ignored the points raised by me. As a result, I received 25 days of arrest on the basis of false statements by police officers.

“American films”

Another member of the NIDA civil movement, Elgiz Gahraman, who was sentenced to 5.5 years of imprisonment in 2016 on charges of drug trafficking, also recalls that he faced similar lawlessness and inhumane treatment during his arrest. And although he was incriminated with drug trafficking, during the interrogation he was asked about his political activities.

Elgiz Gahraman:

“After the arrest, they took me to the back seat of the car, keeping my head down, so I couldn’t see where we were going. Only when I got there, I found out that I had been taken to the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. During the week that they kept me there, none of my needs were satisfied. Clean clothes, the opportunity to contact my family – I did not receive any of this. I asked them to least let me talk to my relatives, or bring me clean clothes, or buy them for me from the 66 Manat that I had on me at the time of detention. I was told I could file a written appeal on this matter. It was summer, and they kept me in the same clothes for a week. Moreover, as moral and psychological pressure, they did not allow me to take a shower in the basement of the office, I spent a week in the same clothes, sweaty, unshaven, they did not give me a toothbrush or hygiene products, although I asked for them.

According to the activist, when he was in the Department of Combating Organized Crime, he was required to sign a confession that he had purchased 3.315 grams of heroin “discovered” on him for the purpose of resale. And since he refused to do it, he was kept handcuffed to the operator’s driver for hours.

Elgiz Gahraman:

“When I wanted to tell my family about what happened, they said that I will do it only when they themselves wish. When I needed a lawyer, they appointed me a public defender, which I refused. He said that I want my lawyer, and I wouldn’t sign anything without him. To this, the head of the department , Kerim Alimardanov , who later came under US sanctions for torturing believers and political activists in 2015 and 2016, replied: “You seem to have watched too many American film. Your lawyer will be who we tell you he will be.” And when I refused to sign the confession, I was beaten and questioned. While I was there, I was beaten daily, kept in handcuffs, and subjected to inhumane treatment. I was interrogated by an operative named Shahlar Jafarov. During the interrogation, I was handcuffed to his driver. I was forced to go to the toilet with this driver. And in such a position I spent the days from 10 in the morning until 6 in the evening in Shahlar Jafarov’s office.”

Illustration: Meydan TV

According to Elgiz Gahraman, when he was brought to the court to choose a measure of restraint, there were traces of torture on his body. He showed these traces to the judge, but the judge ignored them, as well as his refusal of his state-appointed defense.

How the basis of violations is laid

One of the most frequent violations during the arrest of critics of the government is that neither family members nor lawyers are told where this person is being held and what they aer accused of. Lawyer Zibeyda Sadigova says that she often encounters this, especially when it comes to political activists. According to Sadigova, hiding the location of her clients violates the right to protection, and it is at this stage that the foundation for subsequent violations is laid.

Zibeyda Sadigova. Source: Meydan TV

“A person is arrested, we are sure of it, the family is looking for them, we call 102, we call the Office of the Ombudsman, and for a long time we cannot get information about where this person is kept. Unfortunately, we manage to get this information only 1, 2 or 3 days later. By that time, all investigative actions that decide their fate have already been carried out. For example, they get confessions from them, force them to sign some documents, and subsequently we cannot prove in court that these confessions were obtained in violation of the right to defense, and this creates great difficulties for us.

Another problem is that during this time a public defender has already been appointed to the person and all investigative actions are conducted with the participation of this “criminal” lawyer. And when the defendant’s own lawyer is connected, all the main documents, on which their fate depends, have already been signed. We are forced to file complaints about the violation of the right to protection, the use of psychological and physical violence. This is mainly happening in the case of politically motivated arrests.

Not a single petition in the case of Abzas Media was granted

The number of violations committed during the detention of employees of the online publication Abzas Media, known for its investigations and criticism, is noteworthy. 6 employees of the publication were arrested in November 2023 on charges of smuggling. Zibeyda Sadigova, who is the lawyer of the director of this publication Ulvi Hasanli, says that there are no essential grounds to keep her client and other participants in this case in custody during the investigation. According to Sadigova, “smuggling” is not considered a particularly dangerous act and does not require isolation from society.

Zibeyda Sadigova:

“Money was found in Ulvi’s office. Although Ulvi stated that this money does not belong to him, a criminal case was immediately initiated against him and other employees of Abzas Media on charges of smuggling. This is where the violations begin, since no evidence was presented to the court about the source of these funds, whether they belong to Ulvi, or whether they were really smuggled into the country. When I met with Ulvi, he said that when he was detained, they used force on him, hit him, and his eye was bruised. After the initial measures and the discovery of the body without any evidence and additional investigation, a criminal case was initiated against Ulvi and an appeal was filed to the court for his detention.

The biggest problem in the case of Ulvi Hasanli and other employees of Abzas Media is that the court, without considering any evidence that these people really brought contraband currency into the country, chose a preventive measure in the form of a long sentence. At the moment, all of them are in the Baku pretrial detention center. We have repeatedly complained, petitioned to transfer them under house arrest, but the court has not yet considered any of our petitions. If we had a normal legal system, if the legislation worked, these journalists would not be behind bars now. Even if a criminal case was opened against them, they still should not be in custody. There are alternative measures of prevention. But the court rejected not only our petitions, which concern measures of restraint, but also all petitions in general.

After the arrest of Abzas Media employees, the pro-government mass media began to spread information obtained, presumably, from the investigation. It was asserted that the arrested journalists are accused of conducting anti-Azerbaijani campaigns and publishing baseless materials in cooperation with donor organizations funded by the USA.

The lawyer considers the distribution of such information as a violation of the presumption of innocence. Sadigova also emphasizes that a nondisclosure agreement was taken from her clients, but the media received information based on testimony that neither Ulvi Hasanlyinor other employees of Abzas Media gave. The lawyer considers it black PR and intends to take appropriate legal steps.

Prohibition on dating and telephone conversations

Abzas Media employees who are currently in pretrial detention had not been allowed to meet and call their family members until very recently. Nijat Amiraslanov , the husband of journalist Elnara Gasimova , told Meydan TV that he had only spoken to her on the phone once since the arrest:

Illustration: Meydan TV

We can only carry transmissions. But neither meet nor receive any information. For 20 days, only one phone call, and nothing else.

According to Zibeyda Sadigova, the ban on telephone conversations and meetings is completely inexplicable.

Zibeyda Sadigova:

“The investigator does not explain why Ulvi Hasanli and other journalists cannot call their relatives or meet with them once a week. While Ulvi has a one-year-old daughter, she is now in an important period, both parents must be nearby. But Ulvi is deprived of this. We complained to the court many times about the illegality of this decision of the investigator, and the court rejects our complaints and does not give any explanations why it considers it justified.

We expect that, in the event of this or that complaint or question, the defendants themselves will contact the lawyers, they have the right to call their lawyers. Unfortunately, Abzas Media employees are not allowed to do this this. In connection with this, we also went to court, but, again, to no avail.” (Editor’s Note: Since this discussion, in late February some Abzas Media employees were allowed to contact their families).

Arrest is the only measure of prevention in politically motivated cases

Civil activist Ilhamiz Guliyev, who worked in the authorities in the past, also faced inhuman treatment during detention. One of his close friends, Aygul Jafarova, spoke to us about it. According to her, she went to the police department where Ilhamiz was, but although he was definitely there, the deputy head of the department denied it.

Aygul Jafarova:

“In front of me, three people in plainclothes pulled over Ilhamiz and pushed him into a Hyundai civilian car with a number ending in 333. They didn’t introduce themselves, but I rushed to the car and started asking where they were taking him, but they didn’t answer me. I called the Office of the Ombudsman, told them about what happened, that the person was taken away like that. But they did not accept my complaint, justifying it by the fact that “if the people who took him away were in civil service, it is not a fact that they are policemen, but we only accept complaints related to state structures”.

Illustration: Meydan TV

Ilhamiz was beaten by these people in the car. I went to the nearest police department in Yasamal district. In the yard of the office was the same car that took away Ilhamiz. And they told me that they didn’t deliver him there. Then his lawyer came. We continued to stand in front of the department, and the deputy called us and the lawyer to him. While we were in his office, friends who were waiting outside saw Ilhamiz being taken out of the department and away. He managed to shout to them, “I’m here”. And at this time, the deputy head of the department distracted us with his lie. It turned out that he was taken to the district police department of the Yasamal district. Lawyer Zibeyda Saiygova met there with Ilhamiz and also later confirmed that he had bruises on his face.

As a former police officer, Ilhamiz Guliyev told Abzas Media in an interview about how policemen plant unregistered drugs on detainees. He gave this interview anonymously, but Guliyev’s identity was soon revealed and he was subsequently arrested. Relatives and friends associate the arrest with that interview.

Zibeyda Sadigova says that persons arrested for political motives are discriminated against by law enforcement agencies and justice agencies. According to her observations, in relation to people who have committed socially dangerous crimes, the court sometimes chooses not imprisonment, but an alternative measure of restraint.

Zibeyda Sadigova

“On January 9, 2024, a fire broke out in the perinatal center, four babies died. But the accused in this person were not taken into custody. Perhaps, the prosecutor’s office demanded this, but the court chose house arrest. Our legislation allows this, alternative measures of prevention may be chosen. But in the case of politically motivated arrests, there is open discrimination. For example, Ulvi Hasanly is not responsible for anyone’s death, and is not accused of more serious crimes. He is only accused of smuggling. Compared to others, this act is not of a socially dangerous nature. However, Abzas Media employees are under lock and key. Or, for example, people who are in pre-trial detention centers on charges of murder or drug trafficking can easily call and meet with their families. Abzas Media journalists arrested for political reasons are prohibited from doing so.”

“Azerbaijan does not fulfill its obligations”

Rufat Safarov, a human rights activist who worked in the prosecutor’s office in the past, says that particularly in the last year, Azerbaijan has not complied with the international conventions to which it has joined, and there is a violation of human rights and freedoms in the country.

Rufat Safarov Source: Rufat Safarov

“People who criticize the government, public activists, journalists, engaged in investigations – all of them are attracted to administrative or criminal responsibility on fabricated grounds because of their activities. In the context of freedom of speech, defamation and ostracism are used. The rights and freedoms, including the rights to inviolability, freedom of expression, and the right to a fair trial, enshrined in the European Convention, are grossly violated. Judging by everything, although Azerbaijan formally joined the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols, de facto it does not fulfill its obligations.

According to Safarov, the indictments drawn up at the initial stage of the investigation on the basis of fabricated evidence are copied word for word into the indictments. And subsequent instances, again, simply rewrite the same decision and leave it in force.

Rufat Safarov:

“At court proceedings with a political background, judges do not behave like arbitrators, but like one of the parties or prosecutors. Because the judicial power is an extension of the executive power and the independence of the judges is not ensured. In accordance with Article IV of Article 8 of the Constitution, the president is the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary. Taking this into account, people who cannot restore violated rights in local courts turn to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In 2023, the ECtHR adopted 40 decisions on claims submitted by Azerbaijan. And according to these decisions, it is clear that the right to a fair trial was violated most often. In addition, the decisions of the ECtHR found their reflection in violation of the right to freedom and inviolability, respect for private and family life, prohibition of torture, rights to property, life, effective means of legal protection of rights, as well as violation of freedom of assembly and association, freedom of expression . Unfortunately, Azerbaijan is leading in non-compliance with ECtHR decisions. Here it is appropriate to recall the 18th article of the Convention – limits of application of restrictions related to rights. This convention norm is aimed at preventing the state from limiting the rights of its citizens for political reasons and abuse of power.

Rufat Safarov declares that the law enforcement agencies, the courts, the prosecutor’s office are on guard against the political and repressive interests of the ruling party.

Comparing other criminal cases, and cases that are considered politically motivated, Safarov comes to the conclusion that the power structures are guided by a political order.

Rufat Safarov:

“Power structures that carry out a repressive policy operate with complete impunity. Pay attention: in relation to activists, oppositionists, journalist-investigators, at the initial stage of the investigation, the most severe measure of restraint is chosen – detention under custody. According to the instructions of the government, alternative measures of prevention are not applied to them. But, for example, ex-minister Salim Muslimov, accused of embezzling 27 million, is free. Or the officials responsible for the fire in the perinatal center and the death of four babies are under house arrest, not in pretrial detention. What does this say? About the fact that official Baku approaches rights nihilistically, gives unequal and unfair assessments to similar cases, and about the fact that the legal system as a whole limps on both legs.

In the final report of the ECHR for 2023, it is reported that Azerbaijan is among the top ten countries in terms of the number of claims sent to this court. According to some experts, this is due to the fact that the political environment in the country is becoming more and more stuffy, and opponents of the authorities face judicial injustice.

On January 24, 2024, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) suspended the powers of the Azerbaijani delegation for a year. Among the reasons for making such a decision, it was mentioned that Azerbaijan did not invite PACE to observe the presidential elections on February 7, as well as the politically motivated arrests practiced in the country. The Assembly declares that Azerbaijan does not fulfill the basic obligations assumed upon joining the Council of Europe. The Azerbaijani delegation, in turn, also announced the suspension of cooperation with PACE for an indefinite period.

From time to time, various international organizations make statements that rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech, are grossly violated in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government claims that no one in the country is prosecuted for political activity, opinions and statements, and individual persons are justly convicted of specific crimes.

With the support of the News Exchange (Mediaset)

ГлавнаяVideoHow Azerbaijan violates the rights of the political imprisoned