270 years in prison: Azerbaijan’s ‘special security’ operation on town of Nardaran

Published: 16 Mar 2018

In the evening of 26 November 2015, masked security forces stormed the town of Nardaran, where the Muslim Unity Movement (MUM) is based. MUM is an unregistered religious group formed in 2015, whose members describe themselves as “non-violent, conservative Shiites” aimed at promoting the role of Islam. The authorities alleged that they received information that MUM “formed illegal armed units with the purpose of violently capturing state power and committing acts of terrorism”.

MUM’s leader Taleh Bagirzade has long been a vocal critic of the Azerbaijani government, accusing it of corruption and authoritarian rule. He and 16 other MUM members were arrested during the ‘security operation’, and many other followers of MUM or its leaders were arrested soon after. Witnesses recall the sight of masked security officers dragging people away – some conscious, some unconscious – and forcing them into a waiting furniture van. Six people, including two police officers, were killed during the clashes.

This video from Meydan TV* explains what happened.

What happened next?

Over 70 people have now been arrested in total on charges of murder, terrorism and attempts to seize power by violent means, among others. Taleh Bagirzade has stated that “dozens of policemen beat them with automatic rifle butts and truncheons and stomped on them while detaining them in a police van on the way to the organized crime unit headquarters.”  Those arrested in the days after the raid have been subjected to criminal proceedings – on reportedly fabricated charges – with many reporting being tortured and ill-treated. Many of them reported being forced to sign self-incriminating statements later used against them in their trials. The 17 MUM members who have been sentenced have received prison terms of between 10 and 20 years. Bagirzade and MUM Deputy Chairman Abbas Huseynov were both sentenced to 20 years in prison on numerous charges, including illegal firearms possession, homicide, plotting to overthrow the government, illegal purchase and storage of weapons, national, racial or religious hostility, and creation of armed units, amongst other offences. Their lawyer, Yalchin Imanov, has been subjected to disciplinary proceedings leading to suspension of his licence in November 2017. He was disbarred after publicising information about his clients’ reported torture in the Gobustan prison in Azerbaijan; those representing the Nardaran victims are also experiencing repercussions for their involvement in the case.

And now?

EHRAC and a team of Azerbaijani lawyers are advising those arrested during and after the Nardaran raids, in preparation for proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights.

* Access to Meydan TV has been blocked in Azerbaijan, as part of a wider State repression of independent media and civil society. EHRAC and our Azerbaijani partner lawyers are representing Meydan TV and three other blocked independent or opposition news websites before the European Court of Human Rights.