We invite you to read a guest entry by our friend Anar Gasimli, who is an Azerbaijani lawyer, on the role and situation of advocates who defend human rights activists in Azerbaijan.
“Every time after the detention of activists, some free spirit youths, human rights defenders, or political party members call to invite me to become their advocate. This is the most, and may be the only, pleasurable time for me in my lovely profession. It is different to be with the person whose rights are violated, and it is totally different when people with free spirits want to see you next to the person whose rights are violated.
As a citizen, I feel obliged to defend the people who are detained for different false accusations because of their fight for democracy and freedom. But I also suffer when I start defending the interests of activists from the very beginning of their detention.
Be aware that from the preliminary stage of the investigation, the advocate is persona non-grata to the investigator. It is this way even in ordinary cases. Now, imagine how it works in politically motivated detention cases. In these cases, the advocate is not only persona non-grata, but also an enemy, and even a public traitor.
I had the opportunity to meet Haji Movsum Samadov, the head of Azerbaijan Islamic Party, a full week after having concluded the contract with his family members. During this period, I was trying to find him. His whereabouts were known neither to prosecuting authorities nor to the Ministers of Internal Affairs and National Security. Finally, a week later, I could meet with Haji Movsum at the Department on the Fight against Organized Crime. I was literally playing a game of hide-and-seek with the investigator.
We faced the same problem in the defense of Jabbar Savalan. It took two days after concluding the contract with his family members before we could meet Jabbar. During these two days, we had to listen to “stories” of the investigator such as “it’s a non-working day”, “the investigator must rest after being in the office”, and “Jabbar refused to see his advocate.”
The prosecutor of the Sabunchu District Police Department was in the “place of occurrence” for a week in the case of Haji Mehdi Shamilov, detained on false drug charges, and during this week, the charge of the cell phone of the prosecutor was dead. “102”—the hotline number of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, got so fed up with my continuous telephone calls that my number was blocked.
When Jamal Ali and Etibar Salmanli were arrested, the Sabail Police did not allow me to enter the police department, even though I had an order in my hands, proving that I was their advocate. After the “102” police hotline blocked my
calls, I was frozen from the carelessness of the hotline of the Ombudsman Apparatus. The police officer who was sitting at the Nasimi Police Department, where I went to visit my professor Intigam Aliyev, politely asked me to leave the department and not to create problem for him. I faced the same situation at the Yasamal and Sabail District Police Departments where I went in order to defend the people who had been detained while protesting military killings.
Although I managed to pass the security check at the Sabail District Police Department (unlike the Yasamal District Police Department), several minutes later the police officer showed his “politeness” by telling me “the boss sees through the camera; later, it will be a problem for me; therefore, please leave.” Then I asked the question, “Why can the boss object to an advocate’s visit to the police department?” The police officer answered: “You are not in uniform; how does the boss know that you are advocate?” Then decided it was better to leave the department. So, next time I go to the police department, it seems I must wear my advocate’s gown so I don’t create a problem for the police officers.
I can add to the list, but I don’t want to give you a headache. But today, half an hour before the end of the working day, when I was at the Sumgayit City Court, some important representatives of youth called to inform me
about the arrest of Ruslan Asad and Rashad Hasanov, and asked me to come to the Investigation Department on Grave Crimes of the General Prosecutors Office in order to defend one of them.
I did not object, but I was ashamed to go. I knew that if I went, I would stay outside the door. In this situation, I feel degraded. I feel ashamed to look at the eyes of the youth gathered there. I am ashamed that I am an advocate, but I can do nothing. I am ashamed that I cannot demand my right to go into the department.
I was ashamed. I was ashamed to see the question in the eyes of people with broken hopes, “How can a person who is unable to defend his own right defend the rights of others?” Frankly, I also was scared. I was scared of killing
those hopes already broken!
Thus, today I did not follow the call of the youth and later, it was known from the social networks that my colleagues involved in defense were faced the common situation, and were not allowed in.
I turned on my note-book, silenced my phone, and wrote my thoughts on facebook.
Let also the people who have put advocacy in Azerbaijan in this state be ashamed!”
translated by Seljan MammadliAuthor : Europe of Human Rights