The South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders

Intigam Aliyev was freed from cage
On February 3, substantial hearing into the criminal case against famous Azerbaijan human rights defender Intigam Aliyev started with an unexpected decision of the court collegium at the Baku Court on Grave Crimes. Straight after the trial started, the judge ordered to release the human rights defender from the cage without any solicitations from the parties. A rusty lock clanged and Intigam Aliyev was allowed to sit next to his lawyers in the courtroom. The audience greeted the political prisoner with applauses.

Monday, 09 February 2015, by

The lawyers solicited to release Intigam Aliyev from the cage during the previous trial as well, but it was rejected. Human rights defenders explain the court changed its approach towards Intigam Aliyev due to high interest of the monitoring missions in the process.
On February 3, representatives of the Article 42 of the Constitution and Human Rights Center from Georgia also monitored the trial in the frame of the project implemented by Human Rights House Tbilisi. Monitors and observers from the embassies of the USA and Great Britain accredited in Azerbaijan, as well as observers from various diplomatic missions and international or local organizations attended the trial. Local journalists were sitting in the first row of the courtroom. Although they were prohibited to audio and video-record the process, they recorded all significant details of the process with huge interest in their notebooks.

Fragile Judiciary

“We have oil, gold and other natural wealth in Azerbaijan but we do not have democracy and freedom – the biggest values for every state. This process will convince you about that,” Bashkhanum Abasova, member of the management body “Divan” of the opposition political party Musavat, told us, which also observed the trial.

Indeed, although there is a boom of large-scaled architectural and infrastructural projects in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan (this year the country hosts European Olympic Games), the situation in the courtrooms demonstrate that the level of democracy is 20-30 years behind the current economic progress and development of the country. There is outdated office dusted furniture in the court buildings. The rooms were renovated long time ago and you can see dirty and ugly iron cages there which are very irrelevant for the European state.

There are three entrances to the Baku Court on Grave Crimes. The central entrance is locked with an iron gate and only the court personnel uses it. The second entrance is from the chancellery where there is courtroom # 1 (preliminary hearing of Intigan Aliyev’s case was held there but due to small space lawyers solicited to hold the next trial in a larger room). The third entrance is from Bashir Saparoglu Street, which is locked with an iron bar gate. Soldiers in military uniforms guard the gate. Time-to-time they look out and call people into the courtroom. Very often there is a long queue of people on the sidewalk, which wish to attend the trial. Security officers and convoys also stand near the door as they bring detainees accused of grave crimes.

Intigam Aliyev is accused of grave crimes  under the Azerbaijan domestic law and strict transportation rules are used when he is brought to the court. These rules particularly bother the detainees, which are charged of grave crimes. As a result of the activities of the observation missions, on February 3, the court upheld one more solicitation – the substantial hearing of the case was held in a large courtroom. However, the interest of Intigam Aliyev’s case is so high that most of the people, which wished to attend it, could not enter the 50-seat hall. Before entering the room, the security officers seized cell phones and IDs from the observers and other attendees.

The substantial hearing of Intigam Aliyev’s case was conducted in a rectangular room with about 25-30 meters in length and 6-7 meters in width. There is a 1,7 meter-wide and 8 meter-long iron cage on one side of the room, where people accused of grave crimes are placed. Such a long hall is very inconvenient for the trial process because the judges are sitting so far from the audience that often people cannot hear what the court collegium chairman and the parties say. The speech of the prosecutor is particularly difficult to hear. You might have an impression that the prosecutor is speaking in a low voice to disable observers to get possibly as little information about the miscarriages in the case fabricated against the political prisoners as possible. The court did not agree with the repeated solicitation of the defense side to audio and video-record the trial that is allowed by the law in general, but often is not applied in practice. The judge said the secretary is filling in the protocol on the trial that is quite enough. The solicitation about switching on microphones was also not followed-up though it was necessary to allow the audience to properly hear the speech of the court collegium members and the party representatives.

Other rejected and unconsidered solicitations

Azerbaijan judiciary (which is still supervised by the prosecutor’s office like in the old soviet past) does not follow-up the  majority of the solicitations from the defense lawyers. There is a second way to please the “supervisory” prosecutor’s office – not to consider solicitations.

At the February 3 trial, the court collegium rejected 2 solicitations of the defense lawyers, did not discuss 4 solicitations, followed-up completely 2 and partly followed-up  2. The court did not follow-up the solicitation of the victims’ lawyer, which requested to close the trial because an allegedly confidential information about bank transfers were about to be disclosed during the trial. This solicitation astonished the audience in the courtroom and it had such a political context that even the prosecutor did not support the solicitation; it eased the decision making process for the court collegium on holding the trial transparently.

The lawyers’ solicitation on changing the preventive measure – pretrial detention into bail or domestic imprisonment, was also not being followed-up. Aliyev said it was a huge honor for him to be a prisoner in the country together with dozens of political prisoners and said he is eager to fully participate in the court hearings of the criminal case against him. At the same time, it is unclear for him why the court denies releasing him under bail because his passport is kept in the prosecutor’s office before the process is finished. His personal bank accounts are frozen and he cannot leave the country or hide the judiciary that is main allegation of the prosecutor.“I know that you will reject this solicitation but with your refusal you again prove it is an illegal process against political prisoners,” Intigam Aliyev addressed to the judge.

Intigam Aliyev’s solicitation about violations of his and other accused persons’ human rights during  the transportation from the detention setting to the court was partly admitted. “During the transportation I am placed in the iron coffin – it is a vehicle by which they transport me and other accused people to the court. It is a degrading and inhuman treatment. It contradicts the European law and standards. Prisoners are not animals to be transported by similar vehicles to the court and then placed in these cages here,” Intigam Aliyev told judges and added that there are three parts in the iron coffin: one is common, which seats 9 prisoners, second is two-seated space and the third can seat only one person, which is accused of particularly grave crimes. The prosecutor clarified to the judge that Aliyev had personally requested to place him apart from other accused persons during the transportation and based on his request he was placed in an one-seat cell. Intigam Aliyev denied this information and stated that he had a completely different request – he requested to defend the rights of his and other prisoners and to select the car, which will be aired and free from inhuman and degrading conditions. The court collegium concluded as a result of a discussion that they will petition to the penitentiary system to eradicate the problems during the transportation of the accused people.

The charge

The court did not discuss the solicitations of the defense lawyers, which referred to essential issues of the charge. The collegium agreed with the prosecutor on all the solicitations; in fact the prosecutor tried to convince the court to refrain from discussing significant issues. The court did not consider solicitations about the return of office documents withdrawn from Intigam Aliyev’s office during the search; also solicitation about requesting copies of grant agreements from the Ministry of Justice and other significant solicitations related to the charge. The judge said the court will return to these solicitations in a later stage of the substantial discussion. At the same time, the judge said that part of the documents withdrawn during the search, which have no connection with the charge, might be returned to the office. As for the office owner, if he provides the document to prove that the office is still rented out, the court will remove the seal from the space. Aliyev also requested to remove the seal from the office because his organization Civic Education Society is currently paralyzed because of sealing up and removal of significant documents.

Intigam Aliyev also solicited to remove his lawyers from the list of witnesses. He said the prosecutor’s office purposefully granted witness status to them to deprive them from the possibility to defend Intigam Aliyev at the trial. The judge followed-up this solicitation and the decision was applauded by the audience. However, the judge did not consider the solicitation about returning the lawyers back to the case.

After the solicitations, the prosecutor read the indictment which lasted for only 15 minutes. Illegal entrepreneurship (Article 192.2 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan), evasion from payment of taxes (Article 213.3), abusing official powers (Article 308.2) – This is the official charge against Intigam Aliyev, for what he was arrested on August 8, 2014.

On the day of his arrest his organization was searched; documents (agreements, invoices, bank account extracts, etc), computers, CDs and memory sticks were removed. They were not separately examined and arranged in a list. Everything was thrown into sacks and sealed. It caused follow-up problems that were underscored by lawyers at the trial, who noted that they have no access to the documents, which can annul the accusation. The prosecutor’s office denies to give significant case materials to the lawyers. As the lawyers say, on of the bigger problem is that the prosecutor’s office does not rely on the documents, which they withdrew during the search and stipulates only general accusations. Instead, the so called victims are under influence of the side of the plaintiff, which made statements against Intigam Aliyev during the investigation.

Logically, it is a huge problem when the prosecutor’s office argues with the accused person that he had not registered a set of grant agreements in the Ministry of Justice whilst those grant agreements are stored in the sacks somewhere. The court collegium did not consider the solicitation of the lawyers, which stated that if the prosecutor’s office does not present relevant documentation, the court should request those documents from the Ministry of Justice.

International organizations and institutions do not doubt that Intigam Aliyev is a political prisoner. The human rights defender has sent more than 300 applications against Azerbaijan to the European Court on Human Rights. 30 of those applications were upheld; the European Court has launched communication with the Azerbaijan authority of more than 100 applications about human rights violation facts in the country.

In 2012, Czech organization People in Need granted award Homo Homini to Intigam Aliyev for his tribute to the protection of rights of Azerbaijan people.

Four days after Intigam Aliyev’s detention, the international organization Amnesty International declared him to be prisoner of conscience. Several days later, several UN special reporters stated they were alarmed about the politically motivated repressions against the leaders of civil society organizations in connection to their documentation of human rights violations in Azerbaijan. On September 18, 2014 the European Parliament adopted the Resolution where the members called on the Government of Azerbaijan to release human rights defenders from imprisonment.

In front of the Baku Court on Grave Crimes; long queue of people wishing to attend Intigam Aliyev’s trial in the narrow street of the court.

Aleko Tskitishvil

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