12 June 2005, 20:45

Amnesty International: Azerbaijan

Covering events from January - December 2004

More than 100 political opposition activists were tried for their alleged participation in post-election violence in October 2003: at least 40 men received prison sentences following trials which reportedly did not meet international fair trial standards. Courts reportedly failed to exclude evidence allegedly extracted under torture. Political prisoners were among hundreds released during the year.

Trials of opposition activists

By the end of April, over 100 opposition activists had been tried in separate court cases for their alleged participation in violent clashes between supporters of the opposition and law enforcement officers in the wake of presidential elections in October 2003. During their trials, evidence reportedly based on confessions extracted under torture was admitted in court. Thirty-three men received prison sentences of between three and six years. The rest received suspended sentences. Among those who received a suspended sentence was human rights activist and imam of the independent Juma mosque Ilgar Ibrahimoglu. He was released on 2 April.

On 7 May, seven leading members of the political opposition went on trial at the Court for Grave Crimes in Baku for their alleged participation in the violence. International and national organizations called on the authorities to ensure that they received a fair trial in line with international standards. The seven were: Rauf Arifoglu, a deputy chairman of the Musavat (Equality) party and editor-in-chief of the Yeni Musavat opposition newspaper; Ibrahim Ibrahimli and Arif Hajili of Musavat; Panah Huseynov of the Khalq (People) party; Etimad Asadov of the Karabakh Invalids' Association; Sardar Jalologlu of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party; and Igbal Agazade of the Umid (Hope) party. They were reportedly accused of having masterminded the violence and were charged with organizing mass disturbances. They had consistently denied the charges since their arbitrary detentions in October 2003. Some of the seven were allegedly tortured by members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs' Organized Crime Unit. Others were reportedly detained in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions.

At the end of May the seven refused to attend further preliminary court hearings in protest over what they believed to be the court's failure to conduct a fair and open trial according to international standards. Following this protest, the defendants' lawyers resigned and the court appointed new defence lawyers who attended the court session in the defendants' absence. Following calls from supporters and human rights groups, the seven resumed attending court hearings on 22 June.

In court several witnesses reportedly retracted earlier testimony, stating that law enforcement officials had pressured them - including by the use of force - to make statements incriminating the seven defendants. Individual officials denied in court all allegations of having tortured or ill-treated any of the defendants. The court reportedly did not order any investigations into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

On 22 October the court handed down sentences of between two and a half and five years' imprisonment to the seven. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which had monitored the trial, expressed dismay at the harshness of the sentences. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had earlier called the seven defendants "presumed political prisoners" and asked for their release or pardon as part of Azerbaijan's obligations as a member state of the Council of Europe. On 19 November the Court of Appeals upheld the original verdict. An appeal to the Supreme Court was pending at the end of 2004.

Amnesty for convicted political prisoners

In March, May, September and December, President Ilham Aliev pardoned a total of close to 1,000 prisoners. Among those subsequently released were a number considered political prisoners by the Council of Europe, which had required Azerbaijan to release or retry them as one of its obligations on joining the organization. They included former Prime Minister Suret Huseynov and the leader of the self-proclaimed Talysh-Mugan Republic, Alikram Hummatov.

Police ill-treatment and conditions of detention

In December the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published its first report on Azerbaijan. The report, which concerned the CPT's visit to Azerbaijan in 2002, concluded that people detained by the police ran a significant risk of being ill-treated. Among the CPT's recommendations were that professional training for police officers become a priority and that legal safeguards against ill-treatment in custody be applied from the moment of detention. The report also highlighted serious shortcomings in the conditions of detention at several police detention centres. While acknowledging efforts made by the authorities to improve prison conditions, the CPT reported overcrowding in some prisons.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Death penalty - update The status of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), which is not recognized by the international community, remained unresolved. In August 2003 the NKR adopted the criminal code of neighbouring Armenia, thereby abolishing the death penalty. The three prisoners who remained on death row had their death sentences commuted to 15 years' imprisonment.

There had been no executions in Nagorno-Karabakh since 1997.

Torture and unfair trial - update On 21 September former Defence Minister Samvel Babaian was released from prison after serving a third of his sentence. He was one of 35 prisoners pardoned by President Arkadi Ghukasian on 17 September. Samvel Babaian had been sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment in 2001 after an unfair trial and amid allegations that he had been tortured in police custody.

See the source file here.

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