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US Department of State 2013 report (excerpts)

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013
United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
AZERBAIJAN 2013 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Azerbaijani constitution provides for a republic with a presidential form of government. Legislative authority is vested in the Milli Mejlis (parliament). The president dominated the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The October 9 presidential and 2010 parliamentary elections did not meet a number of key standards of the OSCE for democratic elections. Although there were more than 50 political parties, the president’s party, the Yeni Azerbaijan Party, dominated the political system. Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by Russia, France, and the United States. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses.
The most significant human rights problems during the year were:
...
• Unfair administration of justice, including increased reports of arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated imprisonment, lack of due process, executive influence over the judiciary, and lengthy pretrial detention for individuals perceived as a threat by government officials, while crimes against such individuals or their family members went unpunished. Authorities failed to provide due legal process with regard to property rights, resulting in forced evictions, demolition of buildings on dubious eminent domain grounds, and inadequate compensation for property taken by the state. Allegations of widespread corruption at all levels continued, although the presidential administration took significant steps to decrease corruption by public service providers in Baku.
...

Other human rights problems reported during the year included abuse in the military that resulted in 69 noncombat deaths, harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions, continued arbitrary invasions of privacy, restrictions on the religious freedom of some unregistered Muslim and Christian groups, constraints on political participation, continued official impediments to the registration of human rights NGOs, violence against women, and trafficking in persons.

The government failed to take steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity remained a problem.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

While the constitution and criminal code prohibit such practices and provide for penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, domestic human rights monitors reported that security forces abused 111 persons in custody during the year (including a number of reported instances of torture), compared with 141 in 2012. Reports indicated that most mistreatment took place while detainees were in police stations and that abuse ceased once detainees moved to pretrial detention facilities. In one notable exception, human rights activists reported that, on September 11, authorities beat Ilkin Rustamzade, a detainee in the Kurdakhani detention facility, for publishing an article in an opposition newspaper. As of year’s end, there was no investigation of the allegation.

Impunity remained a problem. Authorities reportedly maintained a de facto ban on independent forensic examinations of detainees who claimed mistreatment and delayed their access to an attorney.
Reports continued that authorities used torture or other mistreatment to coerce confessions. For example, there were allegations that authorities forced N!DA (which means exclamation point in Azeri) youth movement members Shahin Novruzlu, Bakhtiyar Guliyev, and Mammad Azizov to appear on March 9 on state television reading prepared “confessions” that they had planned to use violence to foment revolution at a March 10 protest against deaths in the army. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Azizov informed his lawyer that Ministry of National Security officers beat him after he retracted his “confession.” Azizov reportedly could not walk for four days and lost hearing in one ear.

Efforts to coerce confessions reportedly at times included threats of rape.

Local observers reported widespread bullying and abuse in military units during the year, including physical and sexual abuse. In one example five soldiers and an officer beat and shot soldier Jamil Huseynzade on October 28 and left him in a canal in Tovuz District. A passerby found the soldier and took him to the hospital. The Military Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal investigation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Many prisoners experienced harsh detention conditions, some of which were life threatening. While the government continued to construct new facilities, some Soviet-era facilities did not meet international standards. Overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, deficient heating and ventilation, and poor medical care combined to make the spread of infectious diseases a problem in some facilities.
Physical Conditions: The prison population numbered approximately 20,000 persons, approximately the same as in 2012. Of these 13.5 percent were in pretrial detention; 2.3 percent were women. Authorities held men and women together in pretrial detention facilities in separate blocks but housed women in separate prison facilities after they were sentenced. Local NGO observers reported that female prisoners lived in better conditions than male prisoners, were monitored more frequently, and had greater access to training and other activities. Although minors were also supposed to be held in separate facilities, international monitors observed some children being held with adults in 2012. Prisoners may be held in juvenile institutions until the age of 20.

Authorities reported increased efforts to ensure adequate physical exercise for prisoners and opportunities to work or receive training. Authorities at times limited visits by attorneys and family members. Former prisoners reported guards punished prisoners with beatings or by holding them in isolation cells. Local and international monitors continued to report poor conditions at the maximum security Qobustan Prison.
The Ministry of Justice reported that 111 persons died in detention in 2012. The ministry reported that 84 of the deaths were in medical facilities and due to medical conditions. Tuberculosis remained the leading cause of death in prison facilities in 2012, followed by cancer and heart disease. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported two deaths in pretrial detention facilities during 2013. Both were reportedly suicides. The ministry took action against 11 employees for the incidents.

The majority of prisons and detention centers provided access to potable water.

Administration: Prison recordkeeping appeared adequate. Prisoners had access to family visitors, although in some cases authorities limited this access. Authorities permitted religious observance. While most prisoners reported that they could submit complaints to judicial authorities and the Ombudsman’s Office without censorship, domestic NGOs reported that some prisoners in high-security facilities experienced difficulty submitting such complaints. Prison authorities regularly read prisoners’ correspondence. The national human rights ombudsman received a variety of human rights complaints, including from prisoners. While the Ombudsman’s Office reported systematic visits and investigations into complaints, NGOs reported a lack of interest in fully addressing prisoner complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some prison visits by international and local humanitarian and human rights groups, including the ICRC, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the OSCE, the EU (accompanied by representatives of some of its members’ embassies), and the Azerbaijan Committee against Torture. The Ministry of Justice required the Azerbaijan Committee against Torture to obtain prior notification before visiting its facilities, but the Ministry of Internal Affairs continued to allow the committee immediate access to its pretrial detention centers. Authorities generally permitted the ICRC access to the POWs/CIs who were held in connection with the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh as well as to detainees held in facilities under the authority of the Ministries of Justice, Internal Affairs, and National Security.

A joint government-human rights community prison monitoring group, known as the Public Committee, was able to gain access to prisons without prior notification to the penitentiary service. On some occasions during the year, however, other groups reportedly experienced difficulty obtaining access, even with prior notification.
Improvements: According to the ICRC, the government undertook significant efforts to improve detention conditions by building new facilities and modernizing existing detention centers. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that it opened five new detention facilities and renovated eight facilities during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the government generally did not observe these prohibitions, and impunity remained a problem.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of National Security are responsible for internal security and report directly to the president. The Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees local police forces and maintains internal civil defense troops. The Ministry of National Security oversees intelligence and counterintelligence activities and has a separate internal security force. NGOs reported detentions by both ministries of individuals who exercised their rights to fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Police crowd control tactics varied during the year. Police used excessive force in some cases during protests that took place at the beginning of the year, during which police and internal security troops reportedly used rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons. In certain cases police detained peaceful protestors and used excessive force against them.

While security forces generally acted with impunity, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that it took action against 241 employees during the year for groundlessly detaining individuals. The ministry further reported that it brought 172 cases of misconduct against ministry officials accused of violating citizens’ rights.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law states that persons detained, arrested, or accused of a crime should be advised immediately of their rights, given the reason for their arrest, and accorded due process. The government did not always respect these provisions.

While the law allows police to detain and question an individual for 48 hours without a warrant, police detained individuals for several days without warrants. Legal experts asserted that in other instances judges issued warrants after the fact. There were no reports of detainees not being promptly informed of the charges against them, although in several cases, authorities drastically amended charges later. Such cases included 10 individuals considered to be prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International (AI). Of the 10, two were democratic opposition leaders, seven were N!DA democracy youth activists, and one was a Free Youth democracy youth activist (see sections 1.c. and 1.e.). Following amended charges all 10 faced up to 12 years’ imprisonment at year’s end.

The law provides for access to a lawyer from the time of detention. Access to lawyers was poor, particularly outside of Baku. Although entitled to legal counsel by law, indigent detainees often did not have such access. Family members reported that authorities occasionally restricted family-member visits, especially to persons in pretrial detention, and occasionally withheld information about detainees. Days sometimes passed before families could obtain any information about detained relatives.

Politically sensitive and other suspects were at times held incommunicado by police for several hours or sometimes days; there were reports of an emerging trend in which authorities frequently denied lawyers access to clients in both politically motivated and routine cases. In one case police reportedly held religious scholar and activist Taleh Bagirzade incommunicado for a week after his arrest on March 31. A week before his arrest, Bagirzade reportedly delivered a sermon at a mosque criticizing the government. On November 1, after a hasty trial, authorities sentenced Bagirzade to two years in prison on charges of drug possession.

There was no formal, functioning bail system, although authorities sometimes permitted individuals to vouch for detainees, enabling their conditional release during pretrial investigation.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest, often based on spurious charges of resisting police, illegal possession of drugs or weapons, or inciting public disorder, remained a problem throughout the year. Local NGOs, AI, and HRW criticized the government for arresting individuals exercising their fundamental rights and noted that the authorities frequently fabricated charges against them. In particular, police detained members of democratic opposition movements or political parties that attempted to hold peaceful political demonstrations. For example, authorities arrested youth and other democracy activists who called for, organized, or participated in peaceful demonstrations during the first half of the year. These activists included seven members of the N!DA youth movement (Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Mammad Azizov, Rashad Hasanov, Rashadat Akhundov, Shahin Novruzlu, Uzeyir Mammadli, and Zaur Gurbanli), one Free Youth activist (Ilkin Rustamzade), and two activists in youth branches of political parties (Dashgin Malikov and Rasul Mursalov) (see sections 1.c. and 1.e.). Additionally, on November 26, police arrested Facebook activist Abdul Abilov and subsequently charged him with illegal possession of drugs. Independent media speculated that Abilov’s criticism of authorities led to his arrest. Observers also reported police violations of arrest and detention procedures.

Lengthy pretrial detention of up to 18 months occurred. The prosecutor general routinely extended the initial three-month pretrial detention period permitted by law in successive increments of several months until the government completed an investigation.

Amnesty: On May 7, the Milli Mejlis amnestied 2,000 prisoners. Of those released, NGOs considered only Ilgar Rzayev, who was arrested for protesting property rights violations which occurred prior to the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, to have been a political prisoner.

On October 14, the president pardoned 153 prisoners. Human rights monitors viewed two of those released as political prisoners (see section 1.e.).
...
Political Prisoners and Detainees

During the year local and international NGOs maintained that the government continued to hold political prisoners and detainees; estimates of the number varied from dozens to 143. NGOs’ lists of political prisoners and detainees included journalists (see section 2.a.), human rights defenders (see sections 1.e. and 3), secular and religious opposition figures (see sections 1.d., 2.b., and 3), and youth activists (see sections 1.c. and 1.d.).
In one case on February 4, authorities arrested Ilgar Mammadov, the chairman of the REAL Movement and presidential candidate aspirant, and Musavat Party journalist and Deputy Chairman Tofig Yagublu and charged them with organizing social disorder and resisting authorities. Mammadov and Yagublu had gone to the city of Ismayilli in late January to gather information after antigovernment riots began there. The international community and 167 public figures in the country recognized them – along with Anar Mammadli (see section 3) and others – as prisoners of conscience and called for their immediate release. Their trial began November 4 and continued at year’s end.

On October 14, President Aliyev pardoned former minister of economic development Farhad Aliyev and his brother, AzPetrol President Rafiq Aliyev, who were widely viewed as political prisoners. Authorities arrested both in 2005 on allegations of coup plotting but ultimately convicted them of embezzlement. In the days leading to the October 9 presidential election, Farhad Aliyev publicly endorsed President Aliyev’s re-election.

By law political prisoners are entitled to the same rights as other prisoners. Nevertheless, restrictions vary on a prison-to-prison basis. International humanitarian organizations received access to political prisoners.

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