Follow-up to Resolution 1359 (2004) on political prisoners in Azerbaijan
- Parliamentary Assembly
- Assembly debate on
22 June 2005 (21st Sitting) (see Doc. 10564, report of the Committee
on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, rapporteur: Mr Bruce).
1. Since 2001, when Azerbaijan joined
the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly has considered the
issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan on three occasions: January
2002, June 2003 and January 2004. In its Resolution 1359 (2004)
the Assembly “formally ask[s] 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 persons
who were linked to them … [and] the remaining political prisoners already
identified on the experts’ list.”
2. Since Resolution 1359 (2004) was adopted, the President of
the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mr Ilham Aliyev, has signed six pardon
decrees: on 17 March, 10 May, 3 September and 29 December 2004,
and 20 March and 20 June 2005. They permitted the release of 52
political prisoners and 93 presumed political prisoners, including
three high-ranking political figures – Suret Huseynov, the former
Prime Minister, Raqim Gaziyev, the former Defence Minister, and
Alikram Gumbatov – and seven leading members of the political opposition.
3. The Assembly particularly welcomes the last pardon decrees
of President Aliyev on 20 March and 20 June 2005 as a decisive step
towards a solution to the problem, resulting in the release of a
large number of political prisoners.
4. The Assembly commends the work of the independent experts
appointed by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in 2001
to examine the list of 716 names of presumed political prisoners.
They completed their mandate in July 2004 after submitting a total
of 124 opinions and concluding that 62 of the people concerned were
5. The Assembly regrets the former Secretary General’s decision
not to extend the independent experts’ mandate to enable them to
examine the additional list of cases of presumed political prisoners
that were omitted when the first list was drawn up.
6. The Assembly welcomes the constructive and open dialogue with
the parliamentary delegation of Azerbaijan to the Assembly. It recognises
that genuine efforts have been made by the delegation in the search for
a final resolution of this issue. It particularly welcomes the setting
up of a task force comprising representatives of the authorities
and of human rights NGOs, and supports initiatives which contribute
to developing a true dialogue with civil society.
7. The Assembly also notes that there are a number of persons
in the lists submitted by the human rights protection organisations
whose retrials raise concerns as to their compliance with fair trial
standards. It welcomes the decision of the Azerbaijani authorities
to provide these persons with an additional opportunity to apply
to the European Court of Human Rights and to use other remedies
for eliminating any violations committed during their trials.
8. The Assembly firmly condemns the serious dysfunctions of the
Azerbaijani judicial system, resulting in the creation of new cases
in which dozens or even hundreds of people find themselves charged
and tried collectively for offences, such as attempted coups, offences
against state security, terrorism and serious breaches of the peace,
which do not always relate to the facts.
The Assembly regrets that, in spite of its repeated requests,
the Azerbaijani authorities have continued to arrest and convict
hundreds of persons for clearly political reasons:
190 persons were arrested in connection
with the events of October 2003. Of these, 47 were sentenced to
terms of imprisonment and 88 others given suspended sentences; 36
were pardoned on 20 March 2005 and the 11 others were released by
court decision or at the end of their sentence;
about 60 others have been arrested and convicted since
2001-2002 in connection with other cases, most of them without foundation.
10. The Assembly takes note of the task force’s conclusion concerning
the three persons regarded as “political prisoners” by the independent
experts that, taking into account the alleged violent nature of
their crimes and all other specifics of their cases, no insistence
will be made for extra-judicial release of those persons. The Assembly
also takes note of the Azerbaijani authorities’ undertaking to open
the possibility for these persons to apply to the European Court
of Human Rights in the case of unsatisfactory retrial of appeal in
the courts of Azerbaijan.
In the light of the commitments entered into and the assurances
given by the Azerbaijani authorities that the issue would be dealt
with to the Assembly’s satisfaction by the autumn 2004 session,
the Assembly cannot consider the issue of political prisoners to
have been finally resolved since:
political prisoners recognised as such by the independent experts
are still detained;
another 41 persons who have not been recognised as political
prisoners by the independent experts are also still in prison, including
contentious cases or cases of prisoners whose state of health gives
cause for concern and to which the Assembly has drawn the authorities’
attention on several occasions;
at least 45 persons whose cases were not submitted to
the independent experts, whose names were omitted from the initial
list submitted to the experts or who were arrested and convicted
after the commencement of their mandate and are considered by the
Assembly as presumed political prisoners, are also still detained.
12. The Assembly takes note of the undertaking made by the Azerbaijani
authorities to review the cases of 36 of the 45 alleged political
prisoners and of the 41 non-political prisoners. It asks the Azerbaijani
authorities to either release these persons conditionally or organise
as soon as possible an appeal trial, a cassation trial or a retrial,
provided these procedures comply fully with the requirements of
a fair trial as laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights.
13. The Assembly is shocked by the violence with which the mutiny
attempts in certain prisons were put down in February 2005. It firmly
condemns the recourse to violence and the maltreatment and torture
inflicted on political prisoners and presumed political prisoners
and calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to put an end to the impunity
enjoyed by certain units of the security forces. It is profoundly
shocked that members of the organised crime unit, which serves as
a torture centre in Azerbaijan, have been promoted in recognition
of the services they have rendered.
14. The Assembly is also still worried about the conditions of
detention and restrictions on the rights of prisoners and their
families. It calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to implement speedily
the recommendations made by the European Committee for the Prevention
of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
15. The Assembly deplores the conditions of the release of Alikram
Gumbatov who was forced into exile and has had his Azerbaijani nationality
withdrawn. It wishes to express its gratitude to the Government
of the Netherlands which has granted him political asylum and whose
mediation with the authorities in this matter has made it possible
to achieve a positive outcome.
16. The Assembly welcomes the work which NGOs in Azerbaijan have
been doing for many years with courage and determination, under
difficult conditions, to help prisoners and their families.
17. It asks the Azerbaijani authorities to better apply to political
and presumed political prisoners the provisions of the Criminal
Code (Articles 76, 77 and 78) allowing for the possibility of conditional
release where a convicted person has already served either two-thirds
or three-quarters of his or her sentence.
The Assembly resolutely reaffirms its position of principle
that detainees recognised as political prisoners must be released.
It calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to find a speedy and permanent
solution to the issue of political prisoners and presumed political
by releasing the three
remaining political prisoners as determined by the independent experts
or by opening the possibility for their cases to be effectively
considered by the European Court of Human Rights by a retrial or
an appeal, as proposed by the Azerbaijani authorities;
by immediately releasing presumed political prisoners
who have already served several years of their sentence, in application
of the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to conditional release;
by releasing or retrying presumed political prisoners
whose convictions were in breach of fair trial principles;
by releasing on humanitarian grounds presumed political
prisoners who are seriously ill;
by releasing or retrying presumed political prisoners
who were involved in certain political events only to a minor and
very secondary degree, as the people presumed to have instigated
the events have themselves already been pardoned;
by releasing presumed political prisoners who have no
connection with the events in question other than that they are
relatives, friends or mere acquaintances of leading members of former
and it welcomes the undertaking by
the Azerbaijani authorities to “make use of every legal remedy (amnesty, review
of cases by higher-instance courts, conditional release, release
for health reasons, pardon) to settle this problem”.
19. The Assembly notes that the criminal law in force in Azerbaijan
contains provisions and provides for procedures that have obviously
survived from Soviet legislation. It urges the Azerbaijani authorities
to work actively and fully with the Council of Europe on reforming
the judicial system and, in particular, to forward to it without
delay the Criminal Code in order to check its compatibility with
the European Convention on Human Rights and the Court’s case-law.
20. In view of the number of prisoners who have been pardoned
but are deprived of their civic rights and of people who have been
given suspended prison sentences and face the lifting of the suspension
for the slightest misdemeanour, the Assembly expresses serious misgivings
about whether the parliamentary elections to be held in November
2005 will be free and fair.
21. Lastly, the Assembly renews its request to the Azerbaijani
Parliament to pass without delay a law granting a general amnesty,
as a measure of national reconciliation, to groups of persons involved
in certain events. Such a measure is the only means of securing
the release of presumed political prisoners and terminating the
proceedings against those who have fled the country and who, as
political exiles, now wish to return to Azerbaijan and are prevented
from participating in the public life in their country.