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Azerbaijan: Three activists await court decisions

Three internationally-known activists will find out later this week if Strasbourg judges back their human rights complaints against Azerbaijan’s authorities.

The European Court of Human Rights decisions in the case  Hajibeyli and Aliyev v. Azerbaijan (nos. 6477/08 and 10414/08) and Mammadli v. Azerbaijan (no. 47145/14) are expected on Thursday 19 April.

Hajibeyli and Aliyev v. Azerbaijan (nos. 6477/08 and 10414/08)

The applicants, Annagi Bahaduroglu Hajibeyli and Intigam Kamiloglu Aliyev, are Azerbaijani nationals who were born in 1955 and 1962 and live in Baku and Absheron (Azerbaijan) respectively.

They are well-known civil society activists and human rights lawyers.

The case concerns their allegation that they were not admitted to the Azerbaijani Bar Association because they had publicly criticised the state of the legal profession in their country.

In 2005, the applicants applied for admission to the bar under a new law which aimed at reforming the legal profession. At the time they had been practising as lawyers for a number of years on the basis of a special permit issued by the Ministry of Justice. As such, they were allowed under transitional provisions of the new law to be admitted to the Bar without passing a qualification examination, subject to their complying with the requirements to practise as legal counsel.

However, the Presidium of the Bar dismissed their applications. They brought proceedings before the domestic courts in the following years, without success.

Relying in particular on Article 10 (freedom of expression), the applicants allege that they were refused admission to the bar on account of the views they had expressed.

In support of their claim, they have submitted extracts from meetings at which the bar examined their applications and questioned them.

They further allege under Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing) that the courts failed to give a reasoned decision in their cases. Aliyev, the second applicant and also the legal representative in this case, complains on his own behalf and on behalf of Hajibeyli, the first applicant, that in 2014 the authorities seized the entire case file on their applications from his office only to return them two and half months later, in breach of Article 34 (right of individual petition).

 

Mammadli v. Azerbaijan (no. 47145/14)

The case concerns the arrest and detention of a well-known Azerbaijani civil society activist and human rights defender, Anar Asaf oglu Mammadli. He was born in 1978 and lives in Baku.

He has founded several non-governmental organisations specialising in the monitoring of elections, which have either been dissolved or which the authorities have refused to register. These NGOs have regularly criticised the government for election irregularities.

In December 2013, a few months after one of the non-registered NGO published a report critical of the 2013 presidential elections, Mammadli was arrested and charged with illegal entrepreneurship, large-scale tax evasion and abuse of power.

Additional charges were brought against him later on for high-level embezzlement and forgery in public office. The courts ordered his detention at the request of the prosecuting authorities, citing the gravity of the charges and the risk of his re-offending.

Despite his repeated requests to be released on bail or placed under house arrest, this detention was extended, essentially on the same grounds, until May 2014 when he was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to five and a half years’ imprisonment.

Mammadli’s arrest and the criminal proceedings against him were condemned at both domestic and international level, while politicians and public officials from the ruling party in Azerbaijan harshly criticised NGO activists and human rights defenders for contributing to the country’s negative image abroad, accusing them of being spies, traitors and foreign agents.

Relying on Article 5 §§ 1 and 3 (right to liberty and security / entitlement to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial), Mammadli complains that he was arrested and detained without any reasonable suspicion that he had committed a criminal offence and that the courts had not justified the necessity of his continued pre-trial detention.

Also relying on Article 5 § 4 (right to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily by a court), he alleges that the courts failed to take into account his arguments in favour of release, namely that he had no criminal record, had a permanent place of residence and that his family were dependent on him.

Lastly, he alleges under Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights) taken in conjunction with Article 5 that his arrest and detention were politically motivated, and were part of a targeted repressive campaign to silence human rights defenders and NGO activists.

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