European Court asks Azerbaijani Government to account for human rights lawyer Khalid Bagirov’s disbarment

24 June 2016

On 24 June 2016, the European Court of Human Rights requested that the Azerbaijani Government submit its observations in the case of Khalid Bagirov’s disbarment from the Azerbaijani Bar Association (ABA). Khalid is represented by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), based at Middlesex University.

Khalid is a prominent human rights lawyer in Azerbaijan, one of only a handful of lawyers who dare to litigate the cases of human rights defenders, activists and lawyers since the 2014 crackdown on civil society. Disciplinary proceedings were instituted against him following comments made during a trial in September 2014 concerning a domestic court’s failure to implement the European Court judgment in the case of Ilgar Mammadov, an opposition leader whose arrest was found to be politically motivated. Khalid is alleged to have said:

“Like State, like court…If there were justice in Azerbaijan, Judge Rashid Huseynov would not deliver unfair and partial judgments, nor would an individual like him be a judge.”

The Collegium of the ABA held that he had breached the ethical rules of conduct by making a remark at the court hearing about the judicial system. The Collegium lodged a request for Khalid’s disbarment on 18 December 2014, and he was disbarred in a decision by the Nizami District Court on 10 July 2015, which was upheld on appeal.

In his application to the European Court, Khalid argues that his disbarment constitutes an interference with his right to a private and professional life, under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Furthermore, he argues that disciplinary proceedings brought against him on account of his comments amounted to an infringement of his right to freedom of expression and was disproportionate (Article 10 ECHR). Finally, he submitted that the purpose of the disciplinary proceedings brought against him was as punishment for his legal representation of critical voices in Azerbaijan and to prevent him from continuing to act in such cases, under Article 18 ECHR.

I am pleased that the European Court considers the situation in Azerbaijan to be significant and is reviewing our complaints as a priority. The Court has already found a violation of Article 18 in conjunction with Article 5 in the Azerbaijani context on two occasions, and in four cases against other countries. Now the Court will review the application of Article 18 in a new light, assessing the issue of the Azerbaijani Government’s interference with the rights of a lawyer and his freedom of expression on political reasons, as violations of Articles 8 and 10 of the Convention. It will be the first judgment of its kind if the Court finds violations of the respective rights.

Khalid Bagirov, applicant and human rights lawyer, Baku

Khalid, in partnership with EHRAC, is currently representing several high-profile human rights defenders before the European Court, including Rasul Jafarov and Leyla and Arif Yunus, whose cases recently came to judgment. In the case of Rasul Jafarov, the Court found on 17 March 2016 that his arrest and detention were politically motivated and aimed at punishing him for his human rights work. On 2 June 2016, the Court ruled that the Azerbaijani authorities’ failure to provide adequate medical treatment to Leyla and Arif Yunus during their pre-trial detention constituted inhuman and degrading treatment.

Khalid’s application was submitted on 15 October 2015, and its swift communication to the Government just eight months later demonstrates the priority accorded by the Court to such cases. The Government is required to respond to the Court’s questions by 26 September 2016.