“Mehman Huseynov was sentenced because he dared to say in Azerbaijan, that as a photojournalist, as a blogger, as a human rights defender, he should not be tortured, he should not be arrested, and in fact he should be free to do his work,” commented Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy at HRHF. Right after he was detained, HRHF called for Mehman Huseynov’s release at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Since the arrest of Anar Mammadli on 16 December 2013, HRHF organised trial monitoring for almost all hearings of leading civil society figures arrested in Azerbaijan. This hearing of Mehman Huseynov was attended by Ukrainian journalist Mykola Mirny of Human Rights Information Centre and Russian lawyer Marat Sagitov, an alumni of HRHF’s International Law in Advocacy programme. They noted that Mehman Huseynov looked vigorous, he often smiled, and he confirmed all the motions of his lawyers. He was held in a glass cage.
In one of his hearings during the trial against him, lawyer Intigam Aliyev challenged the court’s decision to keep him in a cage: “I am not an animal to be kept in a cage; it is the wild animals in the Zoos that are kept in cages,” he had said.
“By keeping human rights defenders in cages when appearing in the courtroom, like violent offenders, Azerbaijani courts aim at humiliating and intimidating them. Mehman Huseynov should be allowed to sit next to his lawyers, with no interference,” commented Florian Irminger.
On the motions put forward, the defense indeed asked for their client to be able sit with his lawyers – not in a glass cage – during the trial, and for journalists to be allowed to take photos and record video in the court, at least for five minutes. The court rejected these motions, as well as an appeal for the measure of restraint to be changed to house arrest or bail.
Trial observers and Mehman Huseynov’s defense lawyers
The defense also stated that they want to question witnesses whom the first instance court refused to hear. They want Musa Musayev, Chief of the Nasimi District Police Department, who brought the defamation complaint against Mehman Huseynov, to tell about the incurred damages that he personally suffered as a result of Mehman Huseynov’s statements. Mehman Huseynov’s lawyers indicated that their client did not mention the names of law enforcement officers at all.
The representative of the Chief of the Nasimi District Police Department opposed this and all other intercessions of the lawyers, and the Court of Appeal rejected all motions put forward.
The defense also called for examination of the administrative protocol of Mehman Huseynov’s detention, to discover whether he signed the document under pressure and whether it was his signature at all.
The Court refused to conduct a judicial investigation, and was not willing to return the case to the court of first instance, on grounds that it would be a violation of the territorial jurisdiction.
“It comes with no surprise that the Court refused any of the defense’s requests,” continued Florian Irminger. “It is in line with the lack of independence of the judiciary in the country. This case is particularly cynical, as Mehman Huseynov is detained due to denouncing torture of which he was a victim. Torture should be investigated and those responsible brought to justice. We continue to await an answer to our letter to President Aliyev on why such an investigation did not happen.”
Consideration of the case will continue on 10 April at 14.30, when the Court is set to debate and deliver a verdict. Some 47 people were present at the hearing, which was attended by opposition politicians and diplomats.
Mehman Huseynov is a prominent Azerbaijani photojournalist, blogger and human rights defender who has been pivotal in raising awareness of political and social problems in Azerbaijan. In his recent series of video reports for news and media company Sancaq, called “Hunt for Corrupt Officials,” he documented corruption in the high echelons of Azerbaijan’s ruling establishment.
In November 2016, he was elected as IRFS’s new chairman. The previous chairman of IRFS, journalist Rasim Aliyev, died after being violently attacked in August 2015 in Baku. Prior to Rasim Aliyev, Emin Huseynov, Mehman’s brother, was President of IRFS. He was forced into hiding and to leave Azerbaijan. As well as the harassment of its leaders, the IRFS has also suffered from the administrative blocking of the organisation from being able to operate in the country.
The authorities in Azerbaijan have consistently targeted Mehman Huseynov, his family, and the IRFS for several years. He was first arrested in 2012, and since then has been regularly interrogated by authorities, who have confiscated his official documents and imposed a travel ban on him. On 10 September, 2016, he was taken to a police station and interrogated and threatened with torture.
Continued repression in Azerbaijan: International reaction needed
Azerbaijani authorities have repeatedly ignored international and European warnings and recommendations to improve the human rights situation in the country. It is time for States to act when they attend the UN Human Rights Council next week.
Human rights defenders call for action on Azerbaijan
At the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017, Azerbaijani human rights defenders gave accounts of the worrying human rights situation in the country and the need for the international community to respond.
Call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mehman Huseynov
Some 50 member and partner NGOs of Human Rights Houses have written to the Azerbaijani President and authorities to call for the immediate and unconditional release of photojournalist, blogger and human rights defender Mehman Huseynov.