Scores of people were reportedly held hostage because of their ethnic origin by both sides to the conflict over the disputed Karabakh region. Over 100 suspected opponents of the government were arrested after a failed coup attempt in October: some alleged they were ill-treated in detention. The death penalty was abolished for women. At least 10 death sentences came to light, and one was commuted. No executions were reported. One death sentence was passed and subsequently commuted in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). The political situation remained unstable. At the beginning of October members of a special police unit briefly occupied the Procurator-General's office in the capital, Baku, and forces loyal to the Prime Minister were said to have tried to seize key buildings in the city of Ganja. President Heidar Aliyev declared a state of emergency, and the Prime Minister fled after being dismissed and charged with treason. Over 100 people were subsequently arrested. A July cease-fire in the disputed region of Karabakh (see Amnesty International Report 1994) was generally observed for the rest of the year, and in December the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe agreed in principle to send a peace-keeping force to the area. In October the death penalty was abolished for women. Both the NKR and the Azerbaijani authorities alleged that the other side held large numbers of people hostage because of their ethnic origin. For example, Armen Amirbekyan, an ethnic Armenian, was detained on a train at the beginning of the year while in transit through Azerbaijan. He was taken first to the Security Ministry prison in Baku, then to a special holding camp for Armenian detainees in Gobustan. Officially, ethnic Armenians held under such circumstances were detained only as a security precaution, to allow an identity check, and released if shown to be bona fide travellers. However, Armen Amirbekyan's relatives allegedly received a telegram from Security Ministry officials offering to exchange him for two Azerbaijani prisoners. He was still in Gobustan camp in December. Dozens of hostages were released in negotiated exchanges during the year. Among them was 13-year-old Sevda Nukhiyeva, an ethnic Azeri, who had been detained by ethnic Armenian forces in July 1993 along with 18 other members of her extended family. They had gathered for a wedding in the village of Gorazly in Fizuli district, and were taken to Khankendi (known to the Armenians as Stepanakert) in the NKR. Sevda and five female relatives were released in September, and all family members were free by the end of the year. In April the trial by military tribunal began of seven former government officials arrested after a successful mutiny by a military unit in Ganja in June 1993 (see Amnesty International Report 1994). Three defendants – Ikhtiyar Shirinov, Gabil Mamedov and Sulkheddin Akperov – had been in custody since then until the trial opened. The charges included exceeding authority and using armed force against the Azerbaijani people. Sulkheddin Akperov was taken back into custody in September, allegedly as a punishment for delaying the trial when he changed his lawyer, but escaped the following month. Other defendants reported problems in calling witnesses they felt were pertinent. The trial continued at the end of the year. Throughout the year opposition figures alleged that many of their number were imprisoned solely for their peaceful opposition to the government, although official sources stated that they were held in connection with criminal offences, often involving loss of life. Reports of ill-treatment in pre-trial detention continued, but restricted access made verification difficult. Many of the over 100 known or suspected supporters of the former prime minister arrested in October were said to be kept in very cramped conditions in investigation prisons in Ganja and Baku. They allegedly had to take it in turns to sleep while others in the cell stood. It was also alleged that many were denied parcels, and that food and medical provision in the prisons were inadequate. At least 10 death sentences came to light, although in the absence of official statistics the real total, which may have been higher, was not known. Unofficial sources reported that 60 to 70 men were awaiting execution on death row at the end of the year, in grossly overcrowded conditions. No executions were reported, and at least one death sentence was commuted. Private Yemin Salimov had been sentenced to death by a military tribunal in early 1993 for battlefield desertion, but he was pardoned by presidential decree in January. One death sentence was passed in the NKR in May. Captain Yury Belicheko, a Ukrainian citizen, was accused of being a mercenary for Azerbaijan and carrying out a number of bombing raids over the NKR which resulted in loss of life and material damage. He was sentenced without right of appeal by a military tribunal, but he was later pardoned and his sentence commuted by the NKR parliament. In July the UN Human Rights Committee examined Azerbaijan's first periodic report regarding implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It was concerned that allegations of hostage-taking and torture had not been properly addressed. The Committee was also disturbed at the number of death sentences pronounced, and recommended that the use of the death penalty be reduced and provision made for the right to appeal against death sentences. Throughout the year Amnesty International urged all parties involved in the conflict over Karabakh to release anyone held hostage, or held solely on grounds of their ethnic origin. Amnesty International sought further information on allegations that opposition figures were imprisoned solely for their political beliefs, and urged that all political prisoners receive a fair trial in line with international standards. Amnesty International welcomed the abolition of the death penalty for women, but 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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