EHRAC briefs Council of Europe diplomats on repression of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan
On Tuesday 18 August, EHRAC participated in a European Implementation Network (EIN) briefing given to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers (“CM”) about the Ilgar Mammadov group of cases—a set of judgments issued against Azerbaijan by the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) which relate to criminal proceedings against an opposition politician, civil society activists, and human rights defenders. EHRAC’s Director Philip Leach presented to the delegation of diplomats and took part in a Q&A, via video link, detailing developments within the group of cases, as well as the broader situation for civil society in Azerbaijan.
The Ilgar Mammadov group comprises eight applicants who were all the subject of criminal proceedings which the ECtHR found to constitute a misuse of criminal law, intended to punish and silence them. The Government of Azerbaijan has failed to fully implement individual and general measures outlined in the judgments.
EHRAC acts for two of the applicants within the group, Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev. Both men are prominent Azerbaijani human rights defenders who were unlawfully detained and imprisoned following a crackdown on civil society in 2014. The ECtHR ruled, in both of their cases, that their arrest and detention was politically motivated and aimed at preventing them from carrying out their human rights work.
The CM has previously urged the Government of Azerbaijan, in bold and unequivocal terms, to quash the conviction decisions and delete the criminal records of the applicants in the group. The group of cases will be reviewed again by the CM at its upcoming meeting on 1-3 September 2020.
EHRAC’s briefing to the CM is the latest in a series of interventions made in relation to the Ilgar Mammadov group. These interventions are aimed at the full restoration of rights in individual cases but are also at broader changes required to ease the repressive environment for human rights defenders operating in Azerbaijan.
Only two of the applicants have so far had their convictions quashed. Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court granted full acquittal to Rasul Jafarov and opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov in April 2020. Their convictions have been deleted from public records and they have both now been compensated.
The criminal convictions of the other applicants in the group have not been erased, and they all continue to suffer negative consequences because of this.
Earlier this month, EHRAC updated the CM on the case of Intigam Aliyev, drawing attention to Azerbaijan’s continuing failure to quash his criminal conviction. Mr. Aliyev remains unable to receive grants for his NGO, Legal Education Society, his bank accounts are still frozen, and he has not been compensated. He is also still subject to a travel ban on leaving the country. A second travel ban was imposed on Mr. Aliyev in December 2019 relating to the alleged failure of his NGO to pay a tax bill. EHRAC petitioned the CM to call for the lifting of this fresh ban earlier this year.
In April 2020 EHRAC and Amnesty International submitted a joint report to the CM urging it to call upon the Government of Azerbaijan to ensure an enabling environment for human rights defenders. The report offered a series of recommendations, which included a call to the CM to demand that the Azerbaijani authorities discontinue the persecution of members of civil society and end all restrictions on their rights. A special focus was reserved for Azerbaijan’s restrictive and onerous NGO legislation, the arbitrary application of which has throttled the existence of human rights NGOs operating in the country. EHRAC and Amnesty have called upon the CM to demand that these laws be amended so that they are brought into line with relevant international human rights standards.
EHRAC has closely tracked the systematic attack by the Azerbaijani authorities on human rights lawyers, which has become another form of persecution of those defending human rights in the country. Over twenty human rights lawyers have faced either disbarment, suspension, or other disciplinary action. In June 2020, the ECtHR ruled that Azerbaijan’s suspension and disbarment of lawyer Khalid Bagirov was in breach of his freedom of expression and right to a private life. Mr. Bagirov was first suspended after he made comments about the suspicious death of his client in police custody, and then was ultimately disbarred for criticising Azerbaijan’s judicial system during the criminal proceedings against Ilgar Mammadov. EHRAC represented Mr. Bagirov in his case before the ECtHR.
Arbitrary arrests, detentions, and other repressive measures remain commonplace in Azerbaijan. Last month witnessed large-scale arrests of demonstrators in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, following clashes on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. In response, a group of Council of Europe rapporteurs expressed grave concerns with the mass arrests, public order charges based on fabricated evidence, and the torture of detainees, and explicitly cited the ECtHR’s previous findings on the Azerbaijani authorities’ use of arbitrary detention and politically motivated misuse of criminal law in the cases of prominent human rights defenders and civil society activists.
 The applicants are: Ilgar Mammadov, Rasul Jafarov, Anar Mammadli, Rashad Hasanov, Zaur Gurbanli, Uzeyir Mammadli, Rashadat Akhundov, and Intigam Aliyev.