Azerbaijan: Politician’s passport snub breached European human rights law

A decision by Azerbaijan authorities not to renew the passport of a prominent opposition politician, breached European human rights law, Strasbourg judges ruled today.

They held that in the complaint Kerimli v. Azerbaijan (application no. 3967/09), there was a violation of Article 2 § 2 of Protocol No. 4. As Just satisfaction, the European Court of Human Rights awarded 5,000 euros (EUR) (non-pecuniary damage) and EUR 3,600 (costs and expenses).

The applicant, Ali Amirhuseyn oglu Kerimli, is an Azerbaijani national who was born in 1965 and lives in Baku. He is an opposition politician and chairman of the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party.

In June 2006, on applying for a new passport, Kerimli was informed that his application had been rejected on the ground that there were criminal proceedings pending against him.

After inquiring with the Baku police, he discovered that criminal proceedings brought against him in 1994 for illegal possession of a hand grenade – following his arrest at a demonstration organised by his political party – had been suspended in 1995 and never discontinued. He subsequently repeatedly brought the matter to the attention of the prosecuting authorities and the domestic courts, arguing that the criminal charges against him had become time-barred in 1999 and that the proceedings should have thus been discontinued.

In May 2008, the Nasimi District Court found that the domestic courts did not have competence to examine complaints against the prosecuting authorities’ failure to discontinue the proceedings against Kerimli. This decision was ultimately upheld by the Baku Court of Appeal in July 2008.

As the criminal proceedings have still not been discontinued, Kerimli has remained without a passport since June 2006.

Kerimli complained that the refusal to issue him with a passport had infringed his freedom of movement under Article 2 § 2 of Protocol No. 4 (freedom of movement) to the European Convention on Human Rights.

He alleged in particular that the authorities’ refusal to issue him with a new passport on the ground that he might remain abroad to escape prosecution was groundless: notably, he had travelled abroad since the criminal proceedings against him in 1994 and prior to the refusal in 2006 using both regular and diplomatic passports and had always returned to Azerbaijan.

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