Azeri POW cleared of high treason charges, accused of torturing captives

525 Qazet, Baku
27 Oct 04

Many probably remember the report of the National Security Ministry
last year that Azerbaijani citizen Nadir Mahmudov, who was taken
prisoner near the village of Araz-Yaglivand of Fuzuli District in
October 1993 and remained in Armenian captivity until 11 December 1995,
had been convicted of high treason.

The report, which was in the media spotlight, said that Mahmudov
defected to the enemy on 23 October 1993 near the village of
Araz-Yaglivand of Fuzuli District occupied by the armed forces of the
Republic of Armenia and engaged in espionage. The indictment bill of
the investigations department of the Security Ministry said that while
at the Xankandi [Stepanakert] children's hospital between December
1994 and 11 December 1995 (i.e. until he was released from captivity),
Mahmudov committed a crime against the state, beating up prisoners and
brutally treating them in order to create favourable living conditions
for himself and not to carry out physical work. While in captivity,
he seized clothing and food provided to the prisoners by the Red Cross
and handed them over to the wardens. The indictment also stressed that
while in captivity, Mahmudov met employees of the Armenian security
agency and persuaded some of the captives to spy for the enemy. It
must be noted that a detective of the investigations department of
the National Security Ministry, Sahib Alakbarov, was in charge of
the investigation.

The Grave Crimes Court examined the case last year, and under the
verdict issued by judge Alovsat Abbasov, Mahmudov was sentenced to
seven years in prison. The defence did not agree with the court
ruling and appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals
decided on 22 October 2003 to uphold the decision of the court of
first instance. The defence then had to file complaints with the
Supreme Court and the Council of Europe.

It became known recently that in the plaintiff's absence, the Supreme
Court collegium for criminal cases and administrative offences ruled on
14 September 2004 that there were no legal grounds to find Mahmudov
guilty of high treason and changed the 22 October 2003 decision
of the Court of Appeals. According to the final conclusion of the
Supreme Court collegium, Mahmudov's actions in Armenian captivity fall
under Article 115.2 of the Criminal Code that envisages punishment
for torturing captives and people protected by humanitarian law and
for treating such persons brutally and inhumanely. For this reason,
the article under which he was held accountable for his deeds was
changed from 274 to 115.2.

Nadir Mahmudov's lawyer Vaqif Samadov said in an interview with our
newspaper that the defendant's appeal to the Supreme Court said that
he had been arrested without guilt.

[Passage omitted: details of Mahmudov's appeals]

Samadov also commented on the unexpected decision of the Supreme
Court collegium for criminal cases and administrative offences:
"As far as I know, Mahmudov appealed to the Council of Europe over
his case. It seems that the case was reconsidered under pressure from
the Council of Europe."

The lawyer believes that although the court changed the article,
it failed to consider the case comprehensively and impartially:
"Although the article has been changed, Mahmudov's punishment has
not been commuted. As I said before, convicting civilians who have
been in captivity runs counter to the existing international legal
norms. Therefore, Mahmudov's case was in the focus of the Council of
Europe's attention. According to the law, the state is responsible
for the security of civilians. Nevertheless, since some officials in
the law-enforcement agencies lack professionalism, incidents that
damage our country's image happen and the cases finally make their
way to the Council of Europe."

[Passage omitted: rights activist says convicting an ex-POW is absurd]