The South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders

14 Questioned and No Accusation
Ketevan Gvedashvili, 

Baku Court continued substantial hearing of Rasul Jafarov’s case, famous Azerbaijan human rights defender. The regular trial into his case was held on March 5. The more people are questioned about the accusation imposed by the prosecutor’s office on him, the more questions emerge.

The fifth trial into Rasul Jafarov’s case was again held in the Baku Court on Grave Crimes in the Semed Vurgun Street. The courtroom was again overcrowded. The accused person has not been in the iron cage since the second trial. On March 5 he was sitting next to his lawyers. The court continued interrogation of the witnesses. On that day, they heard six witnesses. All of them stated that Rasul had no connection with documents; he rarely signed them and was never in charge of tax issues.

The lawyer and founder of the non-formal group Human Rights Club Rasul Jafarov is accused of illegal entrepreneurship (Article 192 of the Azerbaijan Criminal Code), evasion from the payment of taxes (Article 213), abuse of professional power (Article 308), misappropriation of other’s property (Article 179.3.2), and fabrication of documents (Article 313). The prosecutor claims Rasul Jafarov damaged the state budget with 6 162 manat because of unpaid taxes.

Nevertheless, the first witness questioned during the March 5 trial stated that not Rasul but the Government of Azerbaijan had committed crime against the human rights defender. He said he knows Jafarov very well and absolutely trusts him. The witness said if Rasul had done anything wrong in accepting and managing the grants, he would have been the first to declare about it. He was a moderator of one of the films and received 1 000 manat as an honoraria for it. He provided the agreement and payment receipt at the trial and repeated that the Government of Azerbaijan had fabricated this charge against Rasul. Next two witnesses – Hamit Khalilov and Alila Rizov were moderators of the films about human rights during the film festival; they had received 300 and 100 manat respectively. Khalilov was in charge of preparation of tax documents however neither he nor Rasul had any contact with the funds mentioned in those documents. He did not remember who signed the documents. 

Alila Rizov showed all those documents to the court, which he and Rasul had prepared during cooperation – check, agreement, contract and few other documents.

One of the witnesses, who is lawyer of another arrested human rights defender Intigam Aliyev and also member of the local NGO, said that Rasul had been coordinator of two projects in his organization. He clarified that Rasul had no connection with finances and received salaries via the lawyer.

Witness Tatiana Kruchkina worked in the frame of the NED funded project implemented by Rasul’s organization. She, as an accountant, was preparing financial reports and various financial documents for the donors. It was her cooperation with Rasul and she worked in her own office [not in Rasul’s one.

The interrogations were conducted in turn by prosecutor, judge and lawyer. Interrogation of each witness lasted very short time. 

It was planned to question several more witnesses at the March 5 trial but as it was found out they were abroad. The judge said unless they appear at the next trial voluntarily, the court will take adequate measures to bring them to the process. 

At the end of the hearing, the lawyer solicited to interrogate two more witnesses and to question wife instead of the space owner, from whom Rasul had rented office for his organization. Rasul clarified that he had signed the office rent agreement with the owner’s wife and paid money to her. Initially, the office owner declared he was guilty saying Rasul had not paid money to him. But later he admitted that Rasul communicated with his wife and paid rent to her.

The prosecutor requested the judge to decline the solicitations. However, the judge neither declined nor upheld them. He decided to postpone the solicitations.
After the process finished, Liberali interviewed Sanan Jafarov, brother of Rasul Jafarov, about his health conditions, situation in the penitentiary establishment and communication with him. 

Sanan Jafarov said Rasul had not complained about conditions in the prison. He is in the cell together with 6-8 inmates and does not feel bad. “We can talk with him every fourth day and we always use this chance. As for visiting him, Rasul can request meeting with family members once a week.”

As for his health conditions, Sanan Jafarov said before detention Rasul had no health problems but lately he has been complaining about pains in the stomach. He said his brother has never had problem of receiving medicines in the prison.

Sanan Jafarov does not exclude possibility of oppression on the human rights defender however he said Rasul has never complained about it. “He has been in prison for 7 months already and has never said anything about oppression. Maybe, similar facts happened or did not happen but he does not inform us about it.”

Azerbaijan General Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal case against 30-year-old Azerbaijan human rights defender Rasul Jafarov in May 2014. On July 7, his bank accounts were frozen. On July 25, travel ban was imposed on him. Rasul was summoned to the prosecutor’s office as a witness several times. But on August 2, having arrived at the interrogation, his status was changed and he got arrested. He was sentenced to three-month pre-trial detention. If the accusations against Rasul Jafarov are being proved, he faces 12-year-imprisonment.

Rasul Jafarov founded Human Rights Club on December 10, 2010. He was the organizer of the campaigns “Sing for Democracy” and “Art for Democracy.” Rasul Jafarov often spoke about political prisoners in Azerbaijan. According to his report, there were 91 political prisoners, mainly journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, religious leaders and political activists, in the country by April 1, 2014.
Local human rights defenders and international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International connect his detention with his activities and declared him a “prisoner of conscience.” 

Since the first trial into Rasul Jafarov’s case on January 15, 2015 nine witnesses and five victims were questioned. None of them provided the court with the information which could prove guiltiness of Rasul Jafarov. Considering this fact, the accusation against Jafarov is rather political revenge against him than execution of justice.

Next trial is scheduled at 10:30 am on March 12. It is noteworthy that the court speeded up the discussion of Rasul Jafarov’s case. Instead initially scheduled two-week intervals, the hearings are now held once a week. The Azerbaijan lawyers assume it is happening because of upcoming Summer Olympic Games as Azerbaijan government does not wish the ongoing court hearings into the cases of human rights defenders to attract attention of journalists and western leaders when they visit Baku. 

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