After a change of government in June scores of possible prisoners of conscience were arrested or briefly detained under administrative procedures. Scores of prisoners were reportedly held as hostages on grounds of their ethnic origin in the conflict over the disputed Karabakh In June over 30 people died when government troops unsuccessfully tried to disarm a mutinous military unit in the city of Gyandzha. President Abulfaz Elchibey left the capital, Baku, later that month following a rebellion led by the unit's head, Suret Guseynov, who then became Prime Minister. Most senior government officials were replaced and some were arrested. In August a referendum returned a vote of no confidence in President Elchibey; Geydar Aliyev was elected President after a nationwide vote in October.

Fighting continued over the disputed region of Karabakh (see Amnesty International Report 1993), and over 100,000 civilians were displaced when ethnic Armenian forces from Karabakh occupied other large areas of Azerbaydzhani territory.

Azerbaydzhan acceded to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in February, and to the 1949 Geneva Convention in June.

Following the fall of President Elchibey, scores of possible prisoners of conscience were arrested or briefly detained under administrative procedures. Many supporters of President Elchibey were held for short periods for taking part in demonstrations, forbidden under the state of emergency then in force, or for other expressions of political dissent. For example, four members of the opposition Musavat Party - Yashar Tyurkazar, Rizvan Gumbatov, Rushdi Magomedli and Mamed Amrakhov - were sentenced to 15 days' administrative detention at the end of July for distributing leaflets in a tea-house in Baku. At the end of the year at least three former government officials remained in detention in connection with the events in Gyandzha. Ikhtiyar Shirinov, former Procurator General, Gabil Mamedov, former Deputy Interior Minister and Sulkheddin Akperov, former Deputy Security Minister, had travelled to Gyandzha to oversee attempts to disarm the mutinous military unit and were detained there on 4 June by forces loyal to Suret Guseynov. They were subsequently transferred to Baku and charged with exceeding their authority and using armed force against the Azerbaydzhani people.

In the context of the Karabakh conflict there were continued reports of hostage-taking on grounds of ethnic origin, with the complicity of the authorities. For example, around 40 ethnic Azeris, including many elderly civilians and children, were taken to the Karabakh regional capital of Khankendi (Stepanakert) in April following an offensive by ethnic Armenians in the Kelbadzhar district. They were said to be held there pending exchange. However, dozens of other people reportedly held as hostages were released in exchanges sanctioned by the Azerbaydzhani authorities and the ethnic Armenians controlling Karabakh. Four possible prisoners of conscience were among a group of 29 people handed over by the Azerbaydzhanis in August. They included Vilik Oganesov and Artavaz Mirzoyan, ethnic Armenian citizens of the Republic of Georgia, who had been held without charge following their arrest in 1992 while in transit through Baku (see Amnesty International Report 1993).

There were reports of ill-treatment in police custody under both administrations. For example, Zardusht Alizade, a journalist, reported being kicked and beaten when he was arbitrarily detained on 27 March in Baku by, among others, the then Interior Minister, who was said to have found some articles in his newspaper politically unacceptable. Later in the year the three former officials named above were reportedly severely beaten - one of them, Sulkheddin Akperov, to the point of unconsciousness - in the first weeks of their detention in Gyandzha.

At least 12 death sentences were reported, although in the absence of official statistics, the real total, which may have been higher, was not known. Unofficial sources reported in December that 48 people were awaiting execution on death row. Five death sentences, which had been passed in May without right of appeal on five soldiers of the Russian Army stationed in Armenia, were commuted. Servicemen Vladislav Kudinov, Konstantin Tukish, Yaroslav Yevstigneyev, Andrey Filippov and Mikhail Lisovoy were convicted of taking part in an attack on Azerbaydzhani forces in Karabakh, but in September parliament voted to hand the men over to the Russian authorities.

No executions were reported, although five men were believed to face imminent execution after their petitions for clemency were turned down by the President in October. Kurban Babayev, Ali Guliyev, Dzhulagay Mamedov, Kingiz Pashayev and Sirudin Rufulayev had been sentenced to death for murder and banditry in November 1990.

Three men on death row died in custody: Sergey Grebenkov, of Russian and Armenian descent, was found hanged in his cell in Gyandzha in February, and Arno Mkrtchyan and Armen Avanesyan, both ethnic Armenians, died in a Baku prison in September and October respectively.

Throughout the year Amnesty International urged all parties involved in the conflict over Karabakh to refrain from detaining civilians as hostages and from holding people solely on grounds of their ethnic origin.

Amnesty International sought further information on possible prisoners of conscience following the events in Gyandzha. The organization welcomed any efforts by properly constituted legal authorities to investigate the deaths there, but expressed its hope that no one would be imprisoned for lawfully exercising their legitimate authority. Amnesty International also urged the authorities not to imprison anyone for the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

Amnesty International continued to urge the authorities to commute all pending death sentences and to take steps towards abolition of the death penalty.

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