Eighteen individuals accused of terrorism and other offenses related to their membership in a Shi’a religious movement critical of the Azerbaijani government were recently handed significant jail sentences in a trial that Amnesty International has
a “travesty of justice”.
Allegations of the use of torture to elicit confessions have marred the long-running case against members of the Muslim Unity Movement (MUM), but have been consistently ignored by Azerbaijani authorities, prompting Amnesty to call for a review of the court’s decisions.
“Amnesty International urges the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure that the 18 members of the Muslim Unity Movement, convicted after gross violations of the right to a fair trial, have a right to appeal in a proceeding that meets international fair trial standards,” the international human rights organization said in a
published on February 6.
As well as accusing the court of ignoring the defendants’ torture claims, Amnesty highlighted the use of unlawful and incommunicado detention and other forms of ill treatment of the detainees, including the denial of essential medical care.
Three of the detainees have had bullets inside their bodies since the day of their arrest.
Other violations of the judicial proceedings included the harassment of witnesses and defense lawyers, and the arrest and prosecution of observers who have criticized the authorities over their handling of the case.
The trial, known as the Nardaran Case after the suburb of Baku where this Shi’a movement has developed in recent years, reached its conclusion on January 25 of this year, after a case that lasted more than a year.
MUM leader Taleh Baghirzade was arrested in November 2015 along with 16 others in a police operation aimed at neutralizing “an armed criminal group acting under the cover of religion and planning to commit acts of terrorism,” according to the Ministry of Interior. Six people were killed during the arrest, including two police officers.
The MUM describes itself as a non-violent, conservative Shi’a movement. It advocates for an increased role for Islam in Azerbaijan, for example criticizing the government’s ban on the wearing of headscarves in schools. It has also been known for accusing the government of corruption and authoritarianism.
All defendants in the Nardaran Case were found guilty of multiple offenses, including plotting to overthrow the government and arms trafficking, receiving between ten and 19 years’ imprisonment.
Taleh Baghirzade and his deputy, Abbas Huseynov, have been sentenced to 20 years incarceration.
Amnesty’s call for a review of the trial was followed soon after by a request by the defendants’ lawyers to launch an appeal against the verdict, according to the
“In the complaint, we raise the question of discharge of our clients Taleh Baghirzade, Abbas Huseynov and other believers due to the lack of proof of their guilt,” Fariz Namazli, one of the defense lawyers, told the Caucasian Knot.
He also called for the release of Fuad Gahramanli – an opposition activist and deputy chairman of the Popular Front Party who is not a member of the MUM and who was arrested for posting a call to support the Nardaran Case defendants on Facebook.
The lawyers are focusing their appeal on the defendants’ claims that their confessions were elicited under torture.
“We ask for the recognition of the violation of our clients rights against torture guaranteed by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” Namazli told the Caucasian Knot.
The defense team expects to receive a response to their complaint in ten days’ time, with the appeal trial starting in a couple of months, according to Yalchin Imanov, another lawyer.