2009 Human Rights Report: Azerbaijan
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
March 11, 2010
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government or its agents did not commit any arbitrary or unlawful killings; however, human rights monitors reported that at least four prisoners died in police or military custody due to alleged abuse and mistreatment.
On January 14, Vagif Suleymanov died in police custody in the Bilasuvar region. Credible sources indicated he was beaten to death.
On May 19, Togrul Mammadzade, age 70, died in the Ministry of Justice's medical treatment facility. While the ministry reported the death as a suicide, credible sources believed he was beaten to death.
On June 11, Rustam Aliyev died in police custody in the Lankaran District after being detained a week earlier. Credible sources indicated that the police allegation that he hanged himself in his jail cell was physically impossible and that medical evidence indicated Aliyev was beaten to death.
On August 2, Aga Turabov was beaten by police officers of the Narimanov District Police Department in Baku. Turabov died on the spot of heart failure.
There were no new developments in the cases of Rashad Haziyev, Mahammad Rahimov, or Zaur Mammadov, all of whom were found dead in or outside of police stations in 2008.
The government reported six deaths of military conscripts during the year, which it attributed to incidents along the line of contact.
Ethnic Armenian separatists, with Armenia's support, continued to control most of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. During the year shootings along the militarized line of contact separating the sides as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict again resulted in numerous casualties on both sides. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported two civilian casualties along the line of contact for the year.
According to the national agency for mine actions, landmines killed two persons, of whom one was a civilian, and injured 17, 15 of whom were civilians. A domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO), the Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban Landmines, reported that landmines killed two persons and injured six others during the year. The two dead were military personnel, while the six injured were civilians.
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c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and criminal code prohibit such practices and provide for penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment; however, there were credible reports that security forces beat detainees to extract confessions and military personnel physically abused subordinates. A May review by the UN Committee Against Torture found that the definition of torture in Azerbaijani legislation does not include references to the purposes of torture, as outlined in the Convention against Torture. A domestic human rights monitor reported that the number of persons tortured in custody by security forces increased from 81 in 2008 to 131 during the year; of the 131 tortured, at least four subsequently died. Impunity remained a problem. According to a report submitted to the UN Committee against Torture by the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan (HRCA) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), problems also included a de facto ban on independent forensic examinations and delays in access to a lawyer.
In October 2008 two sergeants from the Internal Affairs Ministry, Vugar Agayev and Eldaniz Rahimov, were arrested for beating subordinates. The unit's commander and deputy commander were dismissed. In May Agayev and Rahimov were sentenced to five years' imprisonment each under article 331.3 of the criminal code, which punishes military superiors' abuse of subordinates.
On September 11, Ministry of Internal Affairs officers reportedly placed Mahammad Gurbanov involuntarily into a psychiatric facility in the exclave of Nakhchivan. Local human rights defenders stated Gurbanov was not mentally ill but was detained for refusing to pay a bribe to customs officials at the Sadarak border crossing and then writing public complaints about the corruption. Gurbanov was released on October 10.
A local NGO reported numerous police beatings of persons based on sexual orientation.
During the year there was no accountability for the 2008 beating of Mirza Zahidov.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, authorities punished 247 officers for human rights abuses and criminally prosecuted four police officers for these violations during the year.
According to the report by HRCA and FIDH, since the criminalization of torture in 2000, no official had been convicted of torture nor have authorities held accountable any persons responsible for torture in three rulings by the European Court of Human Rights between 2007-09. For example, at year's end the government had yet to fully implement the 2007 verdict of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding the case of Sardar Jalaloglu, who was abused in police custody in 2003. While the Supreme Court overturned Jalaloglu's conviction in 2007, and he received the 10,000 euros (approximately $14,300) awarded by the ECHR in compensation in 2008, the persons who mistreated Jalaloglu had not been brought to justice as required in the judgment.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening despite continuing prison infrastructure improvements.
Overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, lack of heating and ventilation, and poor medical care combined to make the spread of infectious diseases a serious problem. Despite recent improvements to prison infrastructure, prisons, which were generally Soviet-era facilities, did not meet international standards. In maximum-security facilities, authorities limited physical exercise for prisoners as well as visits by attorneys and family members. There were few opportunities for prisoners to work or receive training. Some pretrial detainees were reportedly held in "separation cells," which were often located in basements to conceal evidence of physical abuse. Food and sleep reportedly were denied in these cells to elicit confessions.
Local and international monitors continued to report poor conditions at maximum security Qobustan prison. In a November 26 report, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) stated that during a December 2008 visit to Qobustan Prison, a prison officer attempted to threaten a prisoner for speaking to the CPT delegation, and it was apparent that authorities had warned certain other prisoners not to complain to the delegation. Nevertheless, the delegation received several credible reports from prisoners of intentional physical abuse and excessive use of force by prison officers. The alleged abuse included punches, kicks and blows with truncheons, and sexual abuse. According to local human rights defenders, prison officials made death threats to prisoners, stripped them of their clothes, soaked them with cold water, malnourished them, denied them contact with friends and family, denied them medical treatment, handcuffed them in punishment cells for weeks at a time, and routinely beat them. Hamid Suleymanov, investigation department chief of the Penitentiary Services, stated in 2007 that he found no proof of these violations. Prisoners responded to his assertion with hunger strikes; 15 inmates did so in January 2008. They viewed hunger strikes as their only option to raise awareness of the situation in Qobustan.
The Justice Ministry reported that during the year a new temporary detention facility for those under investigation was built in Baku. The facility met all international standards.
Harsh prison conditions resulted in numerous deaths; the Justice Ministry reported that 105 persons died in detention during the year, a decrease of 19 percent from 2008. The Ministry attributed most deaths to a variety of diseases but reported a substantial decrease in deaths due to tuberculosis (TB), though more still died of TB than any other single disease. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported one death in its facilities, due to suicide. Authorities dismissed one officer and disciplined two others for negligence in connection with these deaths.
On August 17, Novruzali Mammadov, a prominent scholar of the ethnic minority Talysh group and former editor in chief of the Talysh Sedo newspaper, died in the Ministry of Justice medical treatment facility. The ministry reported that he died of a stroke, but family members and local human rights defenders believed he had not received appropriate medical care. Mammadov's widow sued the Ministry of Justice, and the case was ongoing at year's end. Mammadov had been convicted of high treason in a closed trial; some local NGOs believed his arrest was related to his ethnicity and cultural activities.
During the year there was no investigation into the 2008 death of Arif Aslanov while in Ministry of Justice custody.
TB remained the primary cause of death in prisons; the Ministry of Justice reported that it treated 889 prisoners and detainees for TB. The ICRC positively assessed the government's pilot program, established in April 2007, which treated 96 prisoners for multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and placed 779 in category II therapy during the year. According to the ICRC, the prison hospitals' MDR-TB wards were state of the art, well ventilated, and had indirect ultraviolet lights. The ICRC reported that the government's active and passive efforts were effective in screening inmates for TB. The ICRC reported that 18 inmates died from the disease during the year, down from 52 in 2008.
The government reported that the other major causes of death among prisoners and detainees were myocardial infarction, hepatic cirrhosis, and strokes.
A joint government-human rights community prison-monitoring group reconstituted in 2006 was only able to gain access to prisons with prior notification to the Penitentiary Service. During the year the group visited numerous detention facilities, advocated for better medical conditions in prisons, arranged for more telephones to be installed in prison facilities, donated 319 books to prison facilities, and provided legal assistance to 47 prisoners. The Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice cooperated with many of these efforts, but the group highlighted additional problems that remained, including inadequate medical facilities and staff at prisons, insufficient food and recreational activities for inmates, and incomplete access to detention centers for monitoring group members.
Men and women were held together in pretrial detention facilities; however, all women were housed in a separate prison facility after being sentenced. Minors were also supposed to be held in a separate facility; however, international monitors noted some children were held with adults.
The government permitted some prison visits by international and local humanitarian and human rights groups, including the ICRC, the CPT, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Azerbaijan Committee against Torture. As of July 1, however, the Azerbaijan Committee against Torture was no longer permitted to visit Ministry of Justice facilities without prior notification. Ministry of Internal Affairs-run pretrial detention centers still allowed the committee immediate access. The ICRC had unobstructed access to the POWs/CIs who were held in connection with the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the Penitentiary Service since June denied foreign embassies access to prisons outside of consular visits. The missions of some international organizations were still permitted to visit prisons for monitoring purposes.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the government generally did not observe these prohibitions in practice, 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 has a separate internal security force.
Law enforcement corruption was a problem. Police often levied spurious, informal fines for traffic and other minor violations and extracted protection money from local residents. In recent years traffic police officers received substantial pay raises to counter corruption; nevertheless, the low wages of other law enforcement officials continued to contribute to police corruption. High inflation also put pressure on wages. During the year the ministry reported that it punished 10 police officers for corruption. The Ministry of Justice reported that five employees of the Penitentiary Service were accused of crimes related to corruption during the year. There were reports that police officials required additional money on top of fines by the court in order to return prisoners' clothing and release them.
While security forces were generally able to act with impunity, the government reported that it took action against 247 police officers for human rights violations during the year. The government reported that it criminally prosecuted four officers, dismissed 13 officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs police forces, removed 26 officers from their positions, and administratively disciplined 208 others.
On January 14, the Ministry of National Security (MNS) arrested Major Elsevar Nabiyev of the Ganja police, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, after seizing 16 kilograms of narcotics from his possession. The MNS accused Major Nabiyev of leading a narcotics dealing organization. No update was available at year's end.
In October 2008 several police officers from a unit to combat drug trafficking in Baku were arrested on distribution charges. One kilogram of heroin was seized during the search of their offices. The officers remained in custody at year's end.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
The law states that persons who are detained, arrested, or accused of a crime should be advised immediately of their rights and reason for arrest and accorded due process; however, the government did not respect these provisions in practice. Arbitrary arrest, often on spurious charges of resisting the police, remained a problem throughout the year.
The law allows police to detain and question individuals for 24 hours without a warrant; in practice police detained individuals for several days, sometimes weeks, without a warrant. In other instances judges issued ex post facto warrants.
Judges, acting at the instruction of the Prosecutor General's Office or of other executive branch officials, sentenced detainees to jail within hours of their arrest without providing them access to lawyers.
The law provides for access to a lawyer from the time of detention; in practice access to lawyers was poor, particularly outside of Baku. Although entitled to it by law, indigent detainees did not have such access. Authorities often restricted family member visits and withheld information about detainees; days frequently passed before families could obtain any information about detained relatives. There was no formal, functioning bail system; however, individuals were sometimes permitted to vouch for detainees, enabling their conditional release during pretrial investigation. Politically sensitive suspects were at times held incommunicado for several hours or sometimes days while in police custody.
During the year there were numerous instances of violations of arrest and detention procedures, many of which involved individuals engaged in peaceful demonstrations. For example, on April 28, police arrested four members of the Dalga proreform youth movement outside Martyrs' Alley, a public park. The four persons were held for several hours at a police station and then released without being charged.
From May 8 to 10, police arrested nearly 100 young persons in connection with protests critical of the authorities' response to the April 30 shooting at the State Oil Academy, when a gunman forced his way into the institute and killed 13 persons. Police preemptively arrested several youths connected with planning the May 10 protests and held them until after May 10 on spurious charges of resisting arrest. In addition, on May 10, police arrested dozens of youths during several demonstrations and held them for several hours without access to lawyers or informing them of the basis for their detention. Police released them all late in the afternoon without any formal charges, after recording their names and addresses. Several youths reported that police visited their families during the following weeks to ask about their activities.
On September 16, authorities arrested six youth activists wearing T-shirts stating "I am also a hooligan," to protest the arrest of fellow youth activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, who were on trial at the time, charged with hooliganism (see sections 1.e. and 2.a.). The six were arrested outside the Sabail courthouse and held for more than three hours as the court held the second hearing in the case; they were released only after the hearing was completed. No charges were filed against them.
Lengthy pretrial detention of up to 18 months was a serious problem. The prosecutor general routinely extended the permitted, initial three-month pretrial detention period in successive increments of several months until the government completed an investigation.
On March 17, the government adopted the proposal of first lady and Milli Majlis deputy Mehriban Aliyeva and announced an amnesty for certain categories of prisoners. A total of 9,000 prisoners were pardoned, 1,700 of whom were freed from jail, while the rest were serving conditional sentences or had paid fines. The persons freed included an alleged political prisoner, journalist Mirza Sakit (Sakit Zahidov), who had served 33 months of a 36-month sentence.
On December 25, President Aliyev issued a pardon of 89 prisoners. These pardons were based on appeals to the pardon committee. Among those pardoned was journalist Mushfig Huseynov, who was convicted on charges considered to be politically motivated by many local observers. Huseynov suffered from late-stage TB, and his health had severely deteriorated over the previous months.
Despite indications in 2008 that they would be released, several prominent journalists remained in prison at year's end.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Local NGOs maintained that the government continued to hold political prisoners, although estimates of the number varied. At year's end NGO activists maintained that the government held between 23 and 45 political prisoners.
Elchin Amiraslanov, Safa Poladov, and Arif Kazimov--who had been listed in the Council of Europe's experts report on political prisoners--remained incarcerated during the year.
Some estimates of the number of political prisoners included persons arrested in 2005 on charges of plotting a coup and subsequently convicted of corruption.
There were no reliable estimates of the number of political detainees. Most political detainees received sentences of between 10 and 15 days in jail, which were often described as "administrative detention" sentences.
The government generally permitted unrestricted access to alleged political prisoners by international humanitarian organizations such as the ICRC.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The law does not provide for an independent and impartial jury in civil matters. District courts have jurisdiction over civil matters in their first hearing; appeals are addressed by the Court of Appeals and then by the Supreme Court. Citizens have the right to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. As with criminal trials, all citizens have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights within six months of the first Supreme Court ruling on their case.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits arbitrary invasions of privacy and monitoring of correspondence and other private communications; the government did not respect these legal prohibitions in practice.
The constitution allows for searches of residences only with a court order or in cases specifically provided by law; however, authorities often conducted searches without warrants. It was widely believed that the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Internal Affairs monitored telephone and Internet communications, particularly those of foreigners, prominent political and business figures, and persons engaged in international communication. In one such incident, the Ministry of National Security identified and questioned many of the 43 persons who voted via text message for the Armenian entry into the annual Eurovision song contest. After an investigation, the European Broadcasting Union, which ran the contest, decided not to sanction the country's public television channel but changed its rules so that in the future the television company that broadcasts the program will be responsible for the actions of the telephone companies with which it works.
Police continued to intimidate and harass family members of suspected criminals.
During the year domestic human rights monitors reported concerns about the lack of due process and respect for the rule of law in a number of cases related to property rights. Domestic monitors reported that the number of property rights complaints they received skyrocketed during the year, compared to previous years. For example, the Baku Executive Authority announced to residents of a historic building on the seaside boulevard that they had to vacate their homes immediately, as the building would be demolished. Human rights defenders reported that no compensation was given to these residents and that water, electricity, and gas were shut off in the building in order to force them to leave. Residents filed a lawsuit, which was pending at the end of the year, but the building was torn down.
Full report: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/eur/136020.htm