Political prisoners in Azerbaijan
- Parliamentary Assembly
- Assembly debate on
27 January 2004 (2nd Sitting) (see Doc.10026, report of the Committee
on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, rapporteur: Mr Bruce; and Doc. 10047, opinion
of the Political Affairs Committee, rapporteur: Mr Muratovic).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly recalls
its Opinion No 222 (2000) on Azerbaijan’s application for membership
of the Council of Europe, especially paragraph 14.iv.b, in which
it asked Azerbaijan “to release or to grant a new trial to those
prisoners who are regarded as ‘political prisoners’ by human rights
protection organisations, especially Mr Iskander Gamidov, Mr Alikram
Gumbatov and Mr Raqim Gaziyev”.
2. In its Resolution 1272 (2002) on political prisoners in Azerbaijan,
the Assembly urges the authorities of Azerbaijan to resolve the
problem of political prisoners, on the grounds that the existence
of political prisoners is incompatible with Azerbaijan’s membership
of the Council of Europe.
3. Those prisoners included on the lists supplied by non-governmental
organisations who can reasonably be described as political prisoners
fit into a number of categories. Specifically, they include people
who were politically active before they were imprisoned and whose
imprisonment is of political benefit to the government, people who
had, wittingly or unwittingly, offended a senior member of the government,
people imprisoned in spite of inadequate or disputed evidence and
credible claims of false witness, and the friends and relations
of such people, whose only offence was to have been that. The Assembly
considers that the objective criteria adopted to define “political
prisoners” in Armenia and Azerbaijan are valid.
4. Many of the political prisoners have been indicted under laws
of treason or anti-state activity which are open to highly subjective
interpretation. Others claim they have been convicted even when
the presiding judge acknowledged that there was a lack of evidence.
This is sadly characteristic of the methods used by former communist
regimes for removing dissidents.
5. The Assembly supports the initiative by the Secretary General
of the Council of Europe to extend, for a second term, the work
of the independent experts responsible for identifying new cases
of political prisoners, on the basis of the objective criteria.
In this respect it takes note with satisfaction of the Secretary
General’s interim report concerning his independent experts’ work
dated 9 January 2004 and the existing co-operation between the Azerbaijani
authorities and the independent experts. The Assembly welcomes the
fact that, following the 73 final opinions by the independent experts
with regard to 31 people considered as political prisoners, the
Azerbaijani authorities have released 25 people, reduced by half
the unserved part of one person’s prison sentence and decided to
grant new trials to four people.
6. The Assembly takes note of the list of cases of presumed political
prisoners (212 names) currently being examined by the experts, which
was officially transmitted to it on 3 April 2003. The Assembly notes
that from the aforesaid list 54 cases remain to be examined by the
independent experts. Moreover, the Assembly deems that the independent
experts could also consider the 88 cases which were unfortunately
forgotten when the initial list of 716 presumed political prisoners
was drawn up and the cases of new presumed political prisoners which
came to light between 1 January 2001 and 15 April 2002, the date
of the entry into force of the European Convention on Human Rights
7. Those political prisoners whom the experts identify as such
in the latter list must be treated like those previously recognised
as such. Accordingly, the Assembly calls for the immediate release
of those prisoners.
8. The Assembly welcomes the pardons granted by the President
of the Republic since Resolution 1272 on political prisoners in
Azerbaijan was adopted in January 2002. Under these pardons, issued
on 13 March, 27 May and 28 October 2002, 11 February, 17 June, 26
August and 29 December 2003, in all 284 prisoners classified as
political prisoners by a number of non-governmental organisations
were released, including more than 60 prisoners pardoned by President
Ilham Aliyev. It also welcomes the fact that among those released under
those pardons are five prisoners (Nariman Imranov, Guseynbala Guseynov,
Qalib Abdullayev, Ilgar Safikhanov and Iskander Gamidov) appearing
on the list of “pilot cases”, identified by the independent experts as
political prisoners in October 2001, and especially welcomes the
release of I. Gamidov. Furthermore, among the 42 prisoners visited
by the rapporteurs, 14 were released. Since the adoption of Resolution
1272 in January 2002, 5 political prisoners, identified as such
in the experts’ report of 24 October 2001, have been released. Of the
individuals on the list of political prisoners identified in this
report, 4 are still in prison; in addition, a new trial has been
opened for 2 of the 3 “symbolic” prisoners.
9. The Assembly regrets the manner in which the new trials for
MM. Gumbatov and Gaziyev are being conducted, and does not believe
that they comply with the Council of Europe’s standards and principles.
It is only in the case of R. Gaziyev, convicted in absentia, that
a new trial could really be justified. Since Mr Gumbatov has been
identified as a political prisoner by the experts, he should be
released without a fresh judgment. The Assembly deplores the new
verdict handed down in early July 2003 against Mr Gumbatov, being once
again given a life sentence. The Assembly reconfirms its confidence
in the independent experts who, in their opinion of October 2001,
considered these individuals to be political prisoners, and once
again calls for the immediate release of Mr Gumbatov and Mr Gaziyev,
sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in December 2003.
10. The Assembly urges the authorities of Azerbaijan to find a
lasting solution to this problem and deplores the fact that they
continue to maintain that the problem raised is primarily a legal
one and that, moreover, the majority of these prisoners are genuine
criminals, and that it will take months, even years, to have all
these prisoners released because of the alleged pressure of public
11. The Assembly considers that the problem of the existence of
political prisoners cannot only be seen from a legal angle but that
it constitutes a real political problem which should be treated
as such. If political actors are unfairly held in prison or in exile
and they are prevented from being candidates in elections, this
endangers the fairness of elections.
12. Having been apprised that there are new prisoners, convicted
since Azerbaijan’s accession to the Council of Europe, who should,
in the opinion of certain non-governmental organisations with which
the rapporteur and the joint working party have fruitful contacts,
also be considered as political prisoners, and that some people
detained since the post-election events of 15 and 16 October 2003
could also become presumed political prisoners if they are not liberated,
the Assembly voices its utmost concern at these events.
13. The Assembly urges the authorities of Azerbaijan to release
or speedily bring to trial those detained since the post-election
events of 15 and 16 October 2003. All detainees must be granted
access to their lawyers and be afforded the right to a fair trial.
The presumption of innocence must be respected and each sentence
imposed should be proportionate. The authorities must take all necessary
measures to make sure that none of the cases under investigation
results in creating new political prisoners.
14. There are cases of people whose names are not included in
the initial list of 716 presumed political prisoners as well as
people convicted after 1 January 2001 who should also be released
15. The Assembly encourages all presumed political prisoners convicted
since Azerbaijan’s ratification of the European Convention on Human
Rights to take advantage of their right to submit individual appeals
before the European Court of Human Rights.
16. The Assembly is obliged to observe that if there is no solution
to the problem of the political prisoners by the Assembly’s autumn
2004 part-session, Azerbaijan’s presence within the Council of Europe
will have reached a critical stage.
17. The Assembly formally asks the Government of Azerbaijan for
the immediate release on humanitarian grounds of political prisoners
whose state of health is very critical, prisoners whose trials were
illegal, prisoners having been political activists or eminent members
of past governments, and members of their families, friends or people
who were linked to them.
18. Furthermore, the Assembly calls on the Government of Azerbaijan
to release the remaining political prisoners already identified
on the experts’ list.
The Assembly calls on the Secretary General of the Council
19.1 to instruct his
experts to complete their second mandate as soon as possible;
19.2 to envisage prolonging the work of the experts for a third
mandate, with a view to considering a supplementary list of 88 names
of other presumed political prisoners who were unfortunately forgotten when
the initial list of 716 presumed political prisoners was drawn up,
and new cases of presumed political prisoners which came to light
between 1 January and 15 April 2002, the date of the entry into force
of the European Convention on Human Rights in Azerbaijan;
19.3 to ask the member states of the Council of Europe to be
extremely cautious if they receive extradition requests concerning
citizens of Azerbaijan;
19.4 to provide the Assembly with the results of the work of
the Group of Independent Experts investigating cases of alleged
political prisoners, in order to decide on future action in this