EHRAC and ICJ urge UN Special Rapporteurs to prevent disbarment of Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Yalchin Imanov
On 21 September 2017, EHRAC and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) submitted an urgent appeal to three UN Special Rapporteurs on behalf of Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Yalchin Imanov. Mr Imanov is facing disciplinary proceedings and possible disbarment for publicising the ill-treatment and torture reported to have been endured by one of his clients in prison. The Special Rapporteurs have been asked to transmit the appeal swiftly to the Azerbaijani Government, as the disciplinary proceedings could prevent Mr Imanov from continuing his human rights defence work.
Mr Imanov is representing Abbas Huseynov, Deputy Chairman of the Muslim Unity Movement (MUM), who was one of 17 MUM members arrested during a ‘security operation’ in the village of Nardaran in November 2015. Mr Huseynov is serving a 20-year sentence in high security Gobustan prison, having been convicted of mass disorder, terrorism, murder, plotting to overthrow the government, illegal purchase and storage of weapons, national, racial or religious hostility, and creation of armed units, among other offences, in a trial, widely considered to have been marred by numerous human rights violations.
During Mr Imanov’s visit to Gobustan prison in August 2017, Mr Huseynov said that he was being regularly tortured in prison, including being held in solitary confinement (a ‘punishment cell’), beaten with a baton, subjected to electric shocks to his genitals, and handcuffed to an iron post. When contacted by media outlets about his client’s situation in prison, Mr Imanov relayed what Mr Huseynov had told him. Two days later, the Prison Service of the Ministry of Justice requested that the Azerbaijani Bar Association initiate disciplinary proceedings against Mr Imanov for disseminating false information about his client. Mr Imanov requested both the Prison Service and the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate Mr Huseynov’s torture allegations but no response has been received to date.
There are only a handful of lawyers in Azerbaijan who are still able to litigate the cases of human rights defenders, activists and lawyers, since the authorities’ 2014 crackdown on civil society – Mr Imanov’s case is not an isolated incident. With reference to the disbarment of another Azerbaijani human rights lawyer Khalid Bagirov, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights stated:
“There is a clear pattern of repression in Azerbaijan against those expressing dissent or criticism of the authorities. This concerns human rights defenders, but also their lawyers […] disbarment or threat of disbarment may in particular be used as a tool for punishing lawyers who take on sensitive cases or for preventing them from doing so. The disbarment in these cases therefore constitutes a retaliation for activities a lawyer may have carried out in the legitimate exercise of his or her professional responsibilities. [This] reinforces the belief that they are being deliberately targeted with disciplinary proceedings as a result of their engagement in activities that should be perfectly legal in a well-functioning democracy.”
Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
EHRAC represents human rights lawyers Khalid Bagirov and Alayif Hasanov, both of whom have been disbarred as a result of disciplinary proceedings. We are also litigating a broad range of other cases tackling the crackdown on critical voices in Azerbaijan where journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders, and civil society organisations have all faced severe restrictions, forcing many to cease their activities or to move abroad. The ICJ published a report into the systemic weaknesses in the legal profession in Azerbaijan in November 2016, finding serious failings in the transparency and accountability of the Bar Association.
 The appeal was sent to the UN Special Rapporteurs on: the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (Mr. Diego García-Sayán), the Situation of Human Rights Defenders (Mr. Michel Forst), and Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Prof. Nils Melzer).