IHF FOCUS: elections and referenda; freedom of expression and the media; freedom of association; peaceful assembly; judicial system and independence of the judiciary; torture, ill-treatment and police misconduct; prisons and detention facilities; death penalty; freedom of religion; freedom of movement; asylum seekers and IDPs; international humanitarian law.
The election and the events surrounding it infringed upon basic human rights and civil liberties. Opposition parties and the independent media were under the strongest pressure since 1998. Despite recommendations from the Council of Europe, public radio and television were not independent from the government and that was especially visible during the election campaign.
Freedom of peaceful assembly and association were often violated. Public events organized by the opposition were dispersed and demonstrators were arrested and fined. In April-May and in September-October, human rights defenders were targeted in the media and some were even physically attacked.
unresolved conflict with
In late 2003, close to the deadline set by the Council of Europe, parliament passed dozens of laws, including those specified in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Opinion No. 222 (2000).
There was an obvious discrepancy between the existing legal framework and the actual practice of the judicial system. The courts demonstrated dependence on the executive power, especially in politically sensitive cases. For example, at around the time of the presidential election, some opposition party members were refused registration and the decisions were confirmed by courts on no valid basis.
Physical conditions in prisons remained harsh. There were numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment in connection with politically motivated arrests. Human rights defenders were denied access to prison facilities, making it difficult to confirm information received about those facilities.
As of the end 2003, Council of Europe experts were still analyzing the remaining 54 cases of the initial 716 alleged political prisoners while numerous of political prisoners remained incarcerated. The Federation of Human Rights Organizations of Azerbaijan (FHROA) estimated that there were about 250 political prisoners, in addition to those arrested during the post-election clashes.
presidential election of 15 October seriously aggravated the human rights
The PACE noted in June that in order for free and fair elections to take place, the arrest warrants for Ayaz Mutallibov, a former president, and Rasul Quliyev, a former speaker of the parliament, had to be annulled and their freedom of movement in Azerbaijan guaranteed. The two men have been living in exile for several years, threatened with arrest upon return. They were not allowed to repatriate in 2003 and thus, were prevented from running for office. In addition, several other opposition party members were not permitted to register as presidential candidates.
The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Report concluded that the election “failed to meet OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections. The overall process reflected a lack of sufficient political commitment to implement a genuine election process.” The report criticized, among other things, widespread intimidation in the pre-election period and excessive use of force by police at some stages of the campaign; unequal conditions for the candidates; the failure of the authorities to properly implement Election Code; and the restrictions on public rallies and domestic observation of the elections. The report stated that counting and tabulation of election results were seriously flawed. Moreover, the post-election violence resulting in the widespread detentions of election officials and opposition activists further marred the election process. The establishment of a Central Election Commission (CEC) did not enjoy the confidence of most candidates and the voter lists were of a poor quality and were posted too late to permit a meaningful public scrutiny.
The CEC invalidated the votes from 694 polling stations due to irregularities but let stand the results in a large number of others where serious violations had occurred. As a result, about 20% of the electorate was disenfranchised but the fundamental issue of systematic and widespread election fraud was not addressed.
The provisions of a law on NGOs
prohibited the observation of elections in
the observers from the countries of the Commonwealth of the Independent States
(CIS), the head of the PACE delegation and the delegation from the Council of
Europe expressed positive views about the conduct of the elections, Peter
Eicher, the head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission called the
election “a missed opportunity for a genuinely democratic election process.”
The PACE Rapporteur on
The OSCE/ODHIR noted in its report that the final, crucial stage of the election, the phase of vote tabulation, was carried out in secrecy by the CEC, leaving the OSCE/ODIHR unable independently to judge its accuracy or honesty.
In 2003, the Journalist Protection Committee “Ruh” recorded 350 infringements of freedom of the media against 55 media outlets. The main targets were opposition media, particularly the following newspapers: Yeni Musavat (87 incidents), Azadliq (57 incidents), Hürriyyet (35 incidents). One third of the incidents involved physical abuse of journalists, mainly during unsanctioned demonstrations (133 incidents). In 2003, 6 video recorders, 4 cameras and 4 dicta-phones belonging to journalists were broken.
were targeted by the police during the 15-16 October demonstration in
Yeni Musavat journalists, Rauf Arifoglu and
Shaban Nasirov, and an expert working for it, Eldar Tagiyev, were still in detention as of the end of
2003. They were being investigated in
relation to the 16 October demonstrations in
2003, “Ruh” recorded 21 cases
in which primarily opposition media journalists were denied access to
information. Especially characteristic was coverage of the deteriorated health
of the former president. During seven months, officials deliberately
misinformed the public concerning the former president’s health, stating that
he was in good health and would be returning soon to
Twelve trials against the media, which had begun in 2002, ended in 2003. In 2003, 40 new cases were brought against 18 media outlets, mainly opposition ones. Of these, 27 trials ended at the end of year, and 15 media outlets were fined.
The main way to stop opposition media, baring direct measures such as closure by court decision, was to fine them repeatedly.
Many newspapers had distribution problems, and a number of newspaper editions were arbitrarily confiscated in some regions (60 cases). On 15-20 November, some opposition newspapers were not printed by state-run printing houses.
The state media was heavily biased in its news and reporting during the election. Although it met the requirement to provide free airtime and print space for all candidates, it did not meet its obligation to create equal conditions for the candidates. Private television stations were similarly biased. Many journalists were subject to harassment and intimidation, including physical and verbal attacks, detentions, life-threatening phone calls and editorial interference akin to censorship.
Following the recommendation of Council of Europe, a law on public television was passed by the Milli Majlis (the parliament) on 23 December. In contrast to the 2002 variant of the law, the new variant recognized public television as an entity separate from state television. It also defined the structures of the Broadcasting Board and the Board of Directors, as well as procedures for appointing the general director.
Freedom of Association
According to the Justice Ministry, there were 1,500 NGOs registered in the country at the end of 2003 but only 450 of those were active.
During 2003, many NGOs complained of encountering deliberate delays in or baseless refusals of their official registration. A new law concerning state registration of legal entities was adopted on 12 December due to pressure from Council of Europe. It defined a period of 40 days for state registration of any entity.
In January, NGOs protested against a change of tax legislation which significantly increased the tax on grants. They also protested against the introduction of a compulsory system of grant contract registration with the Justice Ministry.
The Constitution and respective law permitted public assembly based on approval by local authorities. On many occasions, authorities abused their right to prohibit public events in the case of opposition party gatherings. On some occasions, local authorities prohibited not only the open-air events such as street rallies, but also gatherings in conference halls maintaining that permission was required. Yet, it was virtually impossible for the opposition to get such permission.
The Coordination Centre of the Opposition held in the summer of 2003 a number of pickets in front of official buildings as well as meetings protesting violations of the electoral law. The events were not sanctioned by the authorities and were dispersed by the police. From June to August only, at least 28 picket lines in front of official buildings were dispersed, according to FHROA.
In September, when candidates for the presidential election began to meet with their electorates, the authorities abused their duty to stop people to check identity papers, to stop cars for alleged violations of traffic rules, to prohibit public events because of alleged violations of public order, and created obstacles for opposition activities, especially in countryside. An FHROA report stated that in some cases, the police created problems in the transportation of people to regional centers (e.g., on 14 September in Yevlakh city). It also reported that opposition party meetings were attacked by pro-government mobsters (e.g. on 18 September in Ismayilli, and on 21 September in Masalli and Lenkaran). The police did not intervene and sometimes arrested the victims themselves.
Judicial System and
15 November, the president proposed a new draft law, “On the Constitutional
Court,” which provided individuals with the right to bring complaints before
the court, something which had previously not been possible. This was done
under pressure from the Council of Europe.
The law was passed on 23 December. According to the new law, which had not yet
been published at the end 2003, the court will
accept individual complaints after all other judicial remedies have been
exhausted and no later than six months after exhaustion of these
remedies. At the same time, the term of service of a
the end of 2003, the situation with the Bar Association (formerly the Collegium
of Advocates) remained dissatisfactory. Young lawyers were not permitted to
join because the Bar Association still did not have an examination commission
to admit new members, as provided for by the law “On Advocates and Bar
Activity” of 28 December 1999.
On 24-25 May, some 400
lawyers gathered to create a new, alternative, bar association as an
alternative to the Soviet-era Collegium of Advocates. The initiators included
Annagi Hadjiev, president of the Azerbaijani Lawyers Association (ALA), Ilyas
Ismayilov, a former justice minister, Tamerlan Qarayev, a former deputy chair
of the Supreme Council of the
In 2003, fair trial issues in the
context of detained political prisoners remained one of the main problems. On 2
April, the Council of Europe’s secretary general prolonged the experts’ mandate
on the issue of alleged political prisoners in
Despite PACE’s recommendation to grant alleged political prisoners the opportunity to have new trials only 3 such trials began in 2002 and four began in 2003. In the case of the former Minister of Interior, Iskander Hamidov, the sentence was reduced from 14 to 11 years; in the case of Rahim Qaziyev it was reduced from life to 15 years; in the case of Alakram Hummatov, the trial continued for the entire year of 2003, bringing the fair character of the procedures into doubt. In January 2004, the Supreme Court confirmed his life sentence.
During 2003, 173 alleged political
prisoners were released, including persons from the “list of 716” of
As a result of unfair domestic court
proceedings, hundreds of citizens applied to the European Court of Human Rights
allegations of arbitrary detention were related to the administrative arrests
of opposition party members participating in mass demonstrations, both in
Another group of political activists who were arbitrarily arrested after the election were members of the election commissions. Up to 15 people were placed in administrative detention for refusing to sign forged election protocols and for engaging in monitoring activities. The total number of administrative detainees was about 400 people as stated by the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior, Sadiq Gozalov, during a press conference of 22 October. The FHROA listed 338 of them.
In the second semester of 2003, the administration offices of some prisons interfered in attempts by the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan (HCRA) to bring complaints on behalf of prisoners to the national courts and to the ECtHR. In some cases, prison directors failed to confirmed, as required by law, signatures of prisoners to authorize a HRCA representative to submit their cases to the ECtHR. In addition, letters and photocopies of necessary documents sent to prisoners by the HRCA were confiscated.
Torture, Ill-Treatment and Misconduct by Police
The UN Committee against Torture (CAT) reviewed the Second Periodic Report of Azerbaijan on 30 April and 1 May. In its conclusions and recommendations, it noted positive efforts by the government to address the CAT’s previous concluding observations: the country issued a declaration under article 22 of the UN Convention Against Torture and Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment enabling individuals to submit complaints to the CAT; it ratified several significant human rights treaties; it carried out extensive legislative reforms; and it introduced torture as an offense into the new Criminal Code, and reported some convictions for this crime.
The CAT, however, was concerned by numerous ongoing allegations of torture and ill-treatment and by the fact that the definition of torture in the new Criminal Code did not fully comply with article 1 of the convention. It also noted the apparent lack of independence of the judiciary despite the new legislation.
With respect to detentions, the CAT noted reports that some persons had been held in police custody much beyond the time limit of 48 hours established in the Code of Criminal Procedure, and that in exceptional circumstances persons could be held for up to ten days in temporary detention in local police facilities. It was also concerned about the lack, in many instances, of prompt and adequate access by persons in police custody or remand centres to independent counsel. Despite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture's recommendation, the remand centre of the Ministry of National Security continued to operate and it remained under the jurisdiction of the same authorities that conducted pre-trial investigations.
The CAT was concerned about reports of harassment and attacks on human rights defenders and organizations. It also expressed concerns about reports that, in many instances, judges refused to deal with visible evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and did not order independent medical examinations or return cases for further investigation.
Police violence against peaceful opposition demonstrations was routine.
The protesters resisted by throwing stones and injuring dozens of policemen. In the ensuing criminal investigation, police cruelty was not investigated at all. Moreover, in a joint statement by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office, the opposition was accused of being responsible for the death of a protester.
In some cases, opposition activists and journalists arrested from October to December in connection with the clash were detained in the facility of the Main Administration of the Struggle Against Organized Crime of the Ministry of Interior, which was designed for gangsters and terrorists. It is known as a place where people are tortured. Against this background, the televised “confessions“ from some of the arrested opposition members raised suspicion that they “confessed” their guilt to various offenses under duress.
Based on reports that hundreds of demonstrators were harassed, attacked, arrested and detained by security forces, who apparently used excessive force to disperse demonstrations, leading to the death of at least one person and to many others being injured, UN experts urged the government to investigate all alleged cases of torture and ill-treatment independently and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Despite seven years of work in prisons and an agreement with the central prison administration, the HRCA was no longer permitted to visit prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross ICRC, however, continued its prison visits program. Also, international visitors from the Council of Europe and OSCE/ODIHR were permitted to meet some political prisoners.
CAT also expressed concern over
Prisons and Detention Facilities
limited efforts to improve prison conditions in
In May, the CAT expressed special concern over the condition of life detention. Since early August, the central prison administration rejected a letters exchange between the HRCA and a group of life prisoners. In November, the application from one life prisoner for distance higher education was baselessly rejected. In 2003, some lifers lodged complaints in the ECtHR on the basis of inhuman and degrading treatment in detention.
the Constitution provided for freedom of religion, this was not always the
practice. A number of laws contradicted this principle. For example, the law
“On Religious Freedom,” amended in 1996, banned foreigners from conducting
"religious propaganda." Similar provisions existed in the law “On
Legal Status of Foreigners” and in the Code of Administrative Offences. Rafiq
Aliyev, head of the State Committee on Work with Religious Associations (SCWRA)
stated that 30 foreigners were deported from
practice, the main concerns were the conditions of “non-traditional” religious
groups. This term, though used by media and officials, was not defined by law
and generally meant those associations which were not registered in
24 September, Rafiq Aliyev issued a warning to visiting Vatican Foreign
Minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, stating that Fr. Daniel Pravda, the
head of the small Catholic community in
was still one of the main problems religious communities faced. The US
Department of State, in its International Religious Freedom Report issued on 18
December, noted that as of the end of 2003, 199 religious groups were
successfully registered, compared with the 406 that were registered previously. The majority of the registered
groups were Muslim. Official sources estimated that 2,000 religious groups were
in operation; many had not filed for re-registration. The Baptist denomination
was among the minority religious communities that faced re-registration
problems. Of its five main parishes, only three were re-registered. In April
the Baku International Fellowship church was registered after a multi-year
battle. In June, the
Though there was continuous pressure against Christian organizations, Muslim communities became a main target in 2003. The international campaign against “Islamic terrorism” was used against Azerbaijani Moslem religious communities and the more unsettled Muslim communities were often described as “hidden terrorist organizations.” In addition, the Muslim communities preferred not to be subordinated to the Spiritual Administration of Caucasus Muslims (SACM) and accused this institution of involvement in politics, as evidenced by the direct and active participation of Allahshukur Pashazade, a SCAM head, in the ruling party’s election campaign.
to the beginning of the new school year in September, the DEVAMM monitoring
group recorded cases of the violation of the right of Muslim religious
women to wear headscarves in school. A female religious teacher in
On 29 November, a second religious political party was established: the Moslem Democratic Party of Azerbaijan. It represented minority groups and proposed as the basis of its ideology the Islamic values of respect for national and international legal norms and democratic standards. The first established religious party is called the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan.
May, the Udin-Albanian church was reopened, apparently for propaganda purposes
by the government, as it had been closed by the tsarist Russian regime in 1836
under pressure from the
31 January, the
Asylum Seekers and IDPs
a result of the unresolved conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and of
addition to Azeri refugees there were about 50,000 Meskhetian Turks who were
still not allowed to repatriate into
At the end of 2003, the UNHCR registered about 7,800 asylum seekers from
On 26 February, a group of asylum
Only in September 2003, the children
of Chechen asylum seekers were given the
opportunity to attend Russian schools in
situation of Chechen children born in
The Azerbaijani government continued to secretly extradite suspects of international terrorism to countries where the death penalty was still in force.
In August, the death penalty was abolished on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh which is not controlled by Azerbaijani authorities.
International Humanitarian Law
Despite the cease-fire at the Azerbaijani-Armenian frontline, there was still some cross-fire in 2003. It was difficult to determine who was at fault.
In the period 1988-2003, 1,330 Azeri prisoners of war were released from Armenian captivity and 410 cases of death of Azeri prisoners of war in Armenian prisons were identified. 4,928 Azerbaijani citizens were still registered as missing persons in the State Commission on Prisoners of War, Missing in Operation and Hostages database.
The taking of prisoners of war and hostages continued in 2003. The Armenian armed forces captured at least three Azerbaijani soldiers and three Azeri civilians, including two children. At least one Armenian soldier was captured in the Fuzuli region and then exchanged on 18 February. Captured Azeris were usually liberated after between two days and one month of captivity with assistance from the ICRC.
27 May, however, the work of the ICRC was criticized by some pro-governmental
NGO activists, including Chingiz Qanizade, a member of the State Commission.
They accused the ICRC of “indifference” to the fate of missing Azeris and
proposed that the ICRC do its job better or leave
In addition to the ICRC, other non-governmental groups searched for missing people. The most effective one was the International Group on Search of Missed in War Operations (“International Search Group”) consisting of experts from Germany, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh region controlled by Armenian forces. In 2003, they visited the area of conflict several times. On 16-17 August, five Azerbaijanis visited the Nagorno-Karabakh region as part of a confidence-building initiative sponsored by the Interchurch Peace Council (IKV), a Dutch NGO. They held a series of meetings with Karabakh officials and visited the Shusha prison.
In May, almost simultaneously with the attacks on the ICRC, the trial of Nadir Mahmudov, a former Azerbaijani prisoner of war, began. He was accused of humiliating other prisoners and collaborating with the enemy. He spent two years and three months in captivity, became disabled, was liberated in 1995 and arrested again seven years later. Practically all witnesses confirmed that the defendant was ill-treated by the Armenians and failed to substantiate allegation of cooperation with the enemy. However, on 4 August, he was sentenced to seven years in prison under article 274 of the Criminal Code (high treason). He appealed the sentence.
At a 30 December conference in
Human Rights Defenders
In 2003, many human rights NGOs experienced problems with the official registration process. Some of them, such as the Committee of Homeless and Destitute Residents of Baku, lodged a complaint with the ECtHR.
The campaign of defense of human rights defenders involved the UN, Council of Europe,
OSCE, and many international human rights organizations. The CAT requested that
The next stage of attacks against human rights defenders began on the eve of the 15 October presidential election.
situation of human rights activists deteriorated after the post-election
clashes between the opposition and the police in
 Based on the
 Report of PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Political prisoners in
 OSCE/ODIHR, “Joint statement
on presidential election in
 Votum Separatum – Dissenting Opinion of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE’s) observers mission from the OSCE/ODHIR Preliminary Report about the Presidential Elections of October 15, 2003 in the Republic of Azerbaijan, 20 October 2003.
 Statistical figures of “Ruh”
report were quoted by Turan News Agency,
 OMCT Case AZE 050603, “Arbitrary arrests and detention / Violation
of personal integrity / Disappearance,“
 FHROA, Report #1 about monitoring of situation of preparation of
Presidential elections in
 OMCT Case AZE 050603, “ Arbitrary arrests and detention / Violation
of personal integrity / Disappearance,“
 FHROA, Report #2 about monitoring of situation of preparation of
Presidential elections in
 PACE Opinion 222 (2000)
 Echo, 29 November and
 RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies, “Disbarred human rights lawyer hopes
 In the “Nardaran Case,“ the government suppressed protests by
residents of the Nardaran settlement outside
 RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," Disbarred human rights lawyer
reinstatement," Vol. 4, No. 19,
 Council of
 PACE Opinion 222 (2000).
 Turan News Agency,
 List of the Federation of Human Rights Organizations of
 UN Committee against Torture, “Committee Against Torture Issues
Provisional Conclusions on Cambodian, Conclusions on
 OMCT Case AZE 271003, “Journalists and protesters face repression during peaceful demonstrations.”
 The UN experts included: the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir; the Special Rapporteur on torture, Theo Van Boven; and the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani.
 “Committee Against Torture Issues Provisional Conclusions on
Cambodian, Conclusions on
 Forum 18 News Service,
 US Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2003, at
 Forum 18 News Service,
 In January 2004, the mayor of
 DEVAMM press release,
 DEVAMM press release,
 Appeal of Maierbek Taramov, Director of the
 See also Religious Intolerance.
 See, e.g. Amnesty International, AI Index: EUR 55/001/2003, UA
115/03, Fear for Safety,
 Decision of police investigator, Lieutenant E. Hasanov,
 About the phenomenon of ‘patriotism’ in human rights activism, see IHF, Human Rights in the OSCE Region Report 2003 (Events of 2002).
 UN Committee against Torture, press release,
 Observatoire, AZE 002/1003/OBS 058, Arbitrary detention,
AZE 003/1203/OBS 068, Arbitrary detention,