The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan has rejected the appeals of three former members of the Special Purpose Police Unit (OPON) of Azerbaijan: Elchin Amiraslanov, Arif Kazimov, and Safa Poladov, who had asked the court to commute their lifetime sentences to 20 years imprisonment.
The detainees are serving a life time sentence for taking part in a deadly clash between the OPON and the Azerbaijani military that occurred in 1995. The Special Purpose Police Unit was established in the early 1990s with the purpose of taking part in military operations related to the Nagorno- Karabakh War.
OPON’s head, Rovshan Javadov, supported the appointment of Heydar Aliyev as president of Azerbaijan in 1993.
However, relations between the OPON and the Azerbaijani government seriously deteriorated due to growing disagreement over the end of the Karabakh War. Rovshan Javadov strongly opposed the Bishkek protocol signed in 1994 that provided for a provisional ceasefire agreement. The lowest peak was reached in March 1995.
On March 13, OPON members occupied police stations in Akstafa and Kazakh, in North West Azerbaijan. However, by March 16 OPON troops had already withdrawn into their headquarters not far from Baku.
On March 14 the then Azerbaijani Minister of the Interior, Ramil Usubov, announced the abolishment of the OPON and gave the OPON commander three days to hand over all weaponry allocated to OPON forces. Only few complied.
In response, units of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces stormed Baku OPON headquarters on March 17, 1995. According to official data, 22 servicemen, 7 civilians and 1 policeman perished in the shootout. Eight employees of OPON were killed, including their leader Rovshan Javadov. Following the events, several OPON members were arrested.
Amiraslanov, Kazimov and Poladov were charged with high treason and sentenced to death in 1997. Their sentence was later commuted to lifetime imprisonment, when, in 1998, Azerbaijan abolished the death penalty. In September 2016, the Qaradagh district court dismissed their appeal to commute their sentence to lifetime sentence to 20 years imprisonment.
The Council of Europe has recognized all three of them as political prisoners.