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Amnesty International Report 2002 - Azerbaijan

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2002
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2002 - Azerbaijan , 28 May 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3cf4cfee4.html [accessed 26 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Covering events from January - December 2001

Republic of Azerbaijan
Head of state: Heydar Aliyev
Head of government: Artur Rasizade
Capital: Baku
Population: 8.1 million
Official language: Azeri
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
2001 treaty ratifications/signatures: (first) Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Optional Protocol to the UN Women's Convention; European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; European Convention on Human Rights; Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights concerning abolition of the death penalty


At least two men died in detention, allegedly as a result of torture and ill-treatment. Demonstrators and political activists were detained for short periods of time, and some reportedly ill-treated in detention. As respect for media freedoms generally decreased, criminal defamation legislation was used to stifle apparently legitimate criticism of public officials. In the disputed region of Karabakh, conscientious objectors continued to face imprisonment.

Background

In January parliamentary elections were held again in constituencies where the results of the November 2000 ballots had been annulled owing to irregularities in the electoral process. Some opposition parties boycotted the elections. Observers for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported that, despite improvements, there were again serious irregularities. These included stuffing of ballot boxes, multiple voting, a failure to follow counting procedures and artificially inflated turn-out figures.

Little progress was made in peace talks with Armenia, held under the auspices of the OSCE's Minsk group, regarding the status of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where a ceasefire has been in place since 1993.

Torture and ill-treatment

Allegations of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials persisted, in spite of Azerbaijan's commitments to uphold international and domestic laws and procedures prohibiting such practices. There were reports of ill-treatment by police, including of journalists, at several anti-government demonstrations. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture concluded in a report of his visit to Azerbaijan in May 2000 that torture or similar ill-treatment remained widespread.

  • It was reported that on 12 May police officers in uniform and in plain clothes beat and injured at least eight journalists covering an unauthorized demonstration in Baku of an estimated 2,000 supporters of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADP) who were demanding the release of political prisoners. They included Suleiman Mamedli, editor-in-chief of Hurriet, the ADP newspaper, who was reportedly beaten and briefly detained. According to reports, two newspaper journalists, Seimur Verdizade and Raghim Gadinov, were beaten by men in civilian clothing who broke their cassette recorders, and correspondents from Russian and Turkish television channels were assaulted and prevented from filming.
Deaths in custody

There were allegations that police ill-treatment had led to at least two deaths in custody.
  • Ilgar Javadov, a 28-year-old oil company engineer, died following his detention at police station No. 9 in Baku's Sabail District on 13 May. His relatives reported that he died in the early hours of 13 May after being severely beaten by police officers and sustaining injuries such as fractures to the right arm, ribs and spine, and bruising to the legs and body. His lawyer reportedly said that a forensic examination had proved the cause of death was the beating. Official police sources reportedly said that he fell while trying to escape through a second-floor window of the police station and died before the ambulance arrived. Other reports indicated that three police officers were charged with incitement to suicide, later amended to ''exceeding official powers with the use or threat of force'', and that they were released from custody following a court hearing held at short notice in Sabail District. Demands by Ilgar Javadov's relatives for his body to be exhumed and for an autopsy to establish the exact cause of death had received no response by the end of 2001.
Conditions of detention

Reports suggested that conditions of detention in Gobustan Strict Regime Prison, where many political prisoners were detained, amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
  • One political prisoner, Alakram Alakbar oglu Hummatov, was said to be held in a cell without ventilation, with an electric light permanently switched on and in temperatures of up to 44°C.
Possible prisoners of conscience

Criminal defamation charges were apparently used to intimidate and silence critics of the government.
  • In September, four journalists were convicted on criminal defamation charges. Shakhbaz Khuduoglu, editor-in-chief of Milletin Sesi newspaper, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and correspondent Gulnaz Qamberli to three months' imprisonment, suspended, after Ramiz Mehdiyev, Head of the Presidential Administration, complained about an article that Milletin Sesi had published about him. Elmar Huseynov, publisher of Bakinsky Bulvar newspaper, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, and Bella Zakirova, editor-in-chief, to a six-month suspended sentence, after publishing an article alleging racketeering by officials. The two sentenced to imprisonment were released under a presidential pardon in October but investigations against them, and two other journalists investigated in connection with these cases, reportedly remained open at the end of the year.
UN Human Rights Committee

In November the UN Human Rights Committee released observations and comments on Azerbaijan's second periodic report to the Committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee noted some positive developments, such as the transfer of the jurisdiction over detention facilities from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Justice and the abolition of the death penalty in 1998. It also expressed concern at a number of issues, including continuing reports of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; the failure to ensure application of international standards to prevent torture; reports that detainees' rights of access to legal counsel, medical advice and family visits were not always respected; prison overcrowding; and the use of criminal libel law to harass journalists.

The Committee also raised concerns that there was no independent mechanism for investigating complaints against police officers and prison guards and that new legislation regulating the legal profession could compromise lawyers' independence. Among other things, it recommended the establishment of an independent body to investigate complaints of abuses by law enforcement officials and initiate proceedings against those found responsible, and the institution of independent inspections of detention facilities.

Council of Europe

On joining the Council of Europe in January, Azerbaijan undertook a number of human rights obligations. The Secretary General instituted post-accession monitoring of Azerbaijan's commitments. They included ratifying, within a year of accession, the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocol No. 6 concerning the abolition of the death penalty, and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. By the end of 2001, Azerbaijan had signed but not ratified these instruments. Another commitment was to adopt within one year a law on an ombudsperson. The procedure of appointment of the post in the law adopted by the Azerbaijani parliament in December failed to meet international standards.

In February the Council of Europe appointed independent experts to inquire into reports by human rights organizations of political imprisonment in Azerbaijan and Armenia. In October the experts reported that, on the basis of objective criteria, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and Council of Europe standards, at least 17 prisoners could be defined as political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

Six were released under a presidential amnesty in August. The prison term of one was reduced in December. However, domestic non-governmental organizations said that hundreds more remained in detention, including 11 determined as political prisoners by the independent experts.

Nagorno-Karabakh

There were allegations of torture and unfair trial in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which is not recognized by the Azerbaijani authorities. The death penalty was retained but no death sentences or executions were reported.

Torture and unfair trial
  • In February, the Supreme Court of Nagorno-Karabakh sentenced former Defence Minister Samvel Babaian to 14 years' imprisonment for organizing an assassination attempt on Arkady Ghukasian, President of the self-proclaimed Republic, in March 2000. He was said to have been beaten severely and drugged following his arrest, and he retracted in court a statement he had made to police in April, reportedly under duress. A number of others convicted with him were reportedly sentenced to terms ranging from suspended prison sentences to up to 14 years in prison. Some were said to have been severely ill-treated and to have had inadequate access to their defence lawyers. The verdict was upheld on appeal in March by the board of the Supreme Court.
Prisoners of conscience

At least three young men were detained pending trial for conscientious objection to compulsory military service. All three were convicted of ''evasion of military development call-up'', and two were given custodial sentences. They had reportedly been released by the end of 2001.

AI country reports/visits

Report
  • Concerns in Europe, January-June 2001: Azerbaijan (AI Index: EUR 01/003/2001)
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