Amnesty International
AI Index: EUR 55/001/2004 (Public)
News Service No: 113
4 May 2004


Azerbaijan: Political opposition leaders must receive fair trial

Amnesty International today called on the Azerbaijani authorities to
ensure that seven leading members of the political opposition in
Azerbaijan receive a fair trial in line with international standards.

Rauf Arifoglu, a deputy chairman of the Musavat (Equality) party and
editor-in-chief of the Yeni Musavat opposition newspaper, Arif Hajili
and Ibrahim Ibrahimli, also deputy chairmen of Musavat, Panah
Huseynov, chairman of the Khalq (People) party, Etimad Asadov,
chairman of the Karabakh's Invalids Association, Sardar Jalologlu,
the executive secretary of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party and Igbal
Agazade, the chairman of the Umid (Hope) party are due to go on trial
at the Court for Grave Crimes in Baku later this week for their
alleged participation in violent clashes between opposition
supporters and law enforcement officers in the wake of the
presidential elections in October 2003. All seven political opponents
are reportedly accused of having masterminded the post-election
violence and are charged with organizing mass disturbances (Article
220 part one of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code) and endangering the
life or health of representatives of the authorities by means of
force (Article 315 part two) - charges which they have consistently
denied since their pre-trial arrests in October 2003.

Amnesty International is concerned about allegations that, after they
were reportedly arbitrarily detained, some of the seven opposition
politicians were tortured by members of the Ministry of Internal
Affair's (MVD) Organized Crime Unit (OCU) to force them to confess to
having organized or participated in the post-election violence and to
denounce the opposition electoral bloc Bizim Azerbaijan (Our
Azerbaijan) and its presidential candidate, Isa Gambar, the chairman
of Musavat and runner-up in the election, who had been placed under
house arrest.

For example, on 17 October masked OCU officers detained Iqbal
Agazadeh at his home, after a special session of parliament had
stripped him of his parliamentary immunity earlier that day. On the
way to the OCU offices he was allegedly repeatedly punched in the
face with a steel-reinforced glove. At the OCU he was reportedly
severely beaten and tortured during three days in order to force him
to denounce Isa Gambar in a television interview on 20 October, after
which he was allowed access to his lawyer. His lawyer told the
international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch that
Iqbal Agazadeh's body was covered in bruises and that he had been hit
some 50 times on one leg.

Others were reportedly detained in cruel, inhuman and degrading
conditions. Rauf Arifoglu told members of the international press
freedom organization Reporters without Borders, who visited him in
pre-trial detention in Bailov prison in Baku, that he had been held
in solitary confinement for 32 days and forced to sleep on the floor
of an unheated cell for 18 days. He went on hunger strike in December
2003 and again in February 2004 together with dozens of opposition
detainees to protest their arrests, which they believe were
politically-motivated.

"Such ill-treatment and torture are against basic human rights
principles endorsed by Azerbaijan when it signed and ratified the
European Convention on Human Rights and if substantiated cast serious
doubts on Azerbaijan's commitment to the respect of human rights and
the rule of law," the organization said.

Amnesty International is further concerned about reports from earlier
trials of opposition activists, accused of having taken part in the
post-election violence, that evidence based on confessions extracted
under torture was admitted in court. The organization reminds the
Azerbaijani authorities of their obligations under international fair
trial standards not to admit such evidence in court and to promptly
and impartially investigate all allegations of torture and
ill-treatment and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Background
In August 2003 President Heydar Aliyev appointed his son, Ilham
Aliyev, as Prime Minister. Two weeks before presidential elections on
15 October, he resigned as President and withdrew his candidacy in
favour of his son who went on to win the elections by a large margin,
as the sole candidate, for the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (New
Azerbaijan) party. The elections were marred by widespread voting
irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, multiple voting and
intimidation of voters and election observers. Scores of election
officials who refused to sign flawed election protocols during the
vote count were reportedly threatened and detained. Violent clashes
between opposition activists protesting election irregularities and
officers from the police and MVD special forces in the centre of the
capital Baku on 16 October left hundreds of protestors and dozens of
police officers injured, many seriously, and claimed at least one
death. Over 50 independent and opposition journalists covering the
demonstration were reportedly severely beaten by police and several
were detained along with scores of protestors and bystanders. There
were credible reports that large numbers of opposition activists or
supporters and members of their families were intimidated and
dismissed from their jobs following the election because of their
political affiliation.

Hundreds of opposition activists, officials and supporters - mainly,
but not exclusively, of the Musavat party - were detained throughout
the country reportedly for "instigating, organizing or participating
in violent activities". Most were sentenced to short-term
administrative detention but more than a hundred were remanded in
custody. To date 118 opposition activists have been tried in separate
court cases for their alleged participation in the post-election
violence. Thirty three men received prison sentences of between three
and six years while the rest received suspended sentences. Among
those who received a conditional sentence was human rights activist
and imam of the independent Juma mosque, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu. He was
released on 2 April.