Europe of Human Rights

On 29 September 2012 youth activist Zaur Gurbanli was detained in Baku by Azerbaijan’s Anti-Organized Crimes Unit. 10 officers were wearing plain clothes, so Gurbanli’s family did not know who arrested the young activists. For two days, the man was denied the possibility to contact his family and his lawyer. Gurbanli’s friends and young activists, not knowing what happened, looked for him around Baku and organized gatherings to monitor different courts and detention centers. Gurbanli’s whereabouts became known only after two days.

Zaur Gurbanli is the chair of a youth organization NIDA and was involved in the Sing for Democracy campaign. On his blog he posted articles criticizing the government, denouncing despotism and corruption. During the arrest, police officers confiscated Gurbanli’s laptop and flyers with the “I would go in 2013… if you join the NIDA” slogan. According to human rights organizations and activists there is a strong case to argue that Gurbanli is targeted because of his political activities.

The Ministry of Interior claims Gurbanli is being investigated for alleged drug activities and that “illegal documents and objects” were found in his office. The Interior Ministry report follows that Gurbanli was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest by the Absheron Regional Court. Although sentenced to administrative arrest, Gurbanli is currently held in the custody of the Organized Crime Unit of the Interior Ministry.

Recently the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution on political prisoners. Gurbanli should be considered as one. His detention has been imposed for purely political reasons without connection to any real offence. Charging oppositionists and journalists for drug possession has become a regular practice of the Azerbaijani officials. Other dubious methods are also used, for example the journalist Khadji Ismailova was filmed in private situation.

Azerbaijan has been a member of the Council of Europe since 2001, and since then is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights and the standards established by the European Court of Human Rights. Gurbanli’s case shows that Azerbaijan is still far from complying with these standards. Denying access to lawyer for two days after the arrest violates the principle set out in Salduz v Turkey case, where the Court stated that incriminating statements made during police interrogation without a lawyer being present cannot be used in trial. Moreover, the ECtHR in the case Pishchalnikov v. Russia set a standard that the accused person who requested legal assistance should not be subject to any further interrogation by the authorities until he or she receives legal assistance, unless it is the accused person who initiates further communication or conversations with the police or prosecution. With those two judgments in mind, it becomes clear that the Azerbaijani authorities failed to act in accordance with European standards and violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights that guarantees fair trial. Thomas Hammarberg, former Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, in the report following his visit to Azerbaijan in March 2010, also pointed out that Azerbaijan has problems with guaranteeing access to lawyer in pre-trial proceedings.

On October 8, an Azerbaijani website reported that Zaur Gurbanli complained about his detention condition. This would be yet another potential violation of the ECHR. The case of the young activist indicates how much still needs to be done in order for the government in Baku to comply with the European principles they themselves agreed to follow.

Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, Zuzanna Warso “Europe of Human Rights”

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