“This is atrocious. The Azerbaijani authorities have accelerated the unprecedented crackdown on civil society, which started last year. Since Intigam’s arrest we have known that this is politically motivated and a response to his work as a human rights lawyer and his advocacy in international fora. Still, this sentence is more outrageous than we thought possible. This must be the final evidence for governments and international organisations to take actions against the Azerbaijani government, not just distributing statements of concern,” says the Executive Director of the Human Rights House Foundation, Maria Dahle.

“Our thoughts and hearts are with our good colleague Intigam Aliyev and his family. This will deprive Azerbaijan and also the international human rights community of an exceptionally competent human rights lawyer for many years to come. Not to mention the people he has inspired and victims of whom he is the representative towards the European Court for Human Rights.”

Members and partners of the Human Rights House Network (HRHN) and the South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders expressed this in their joint letter to President Ilham Aliyev today.

Prominent human rights defender

Intigam Aliyev is one of the most widely respected human rights lawyers in Azerbaijan and founder of the Legal Education Society, an organization that provides legal support to individuals and organizations and promotes awareness of the law. In his capacity as a lawyer and human rights activist Aliyev has submitted hundreds of cases to the European Court of Human Rights – advocating for individuals wronged by the Azerbaijani authorities.

His cases have involved freedom of expression and association, democratic rights, the prohibition of torture, and due process rights. Intigam Aliyev has strived for the legal protection of victims of human rights violations for more than 15 years and has to date represented them in proceedings before the Court in more than 200 cases (around 40 cases are currently awaiting decision). When he was detained, he was defending more than 140 people in the Court. By detaining Intigam Aliyev the Azerbaijani authorities also deprive their citizens the right to appeal and seek justice before the Court.

Politically motivated charges

Aliyev was arrested 8 August 2014 on bogus charges and has been in pre-trial detention since. The official charges against Alieyev are under articles 179.3.2 (Assignment or waste in large size) 192.2.2 (illegal business), 213.2.2 (tax evasion), 308.2 (abuse of power), and 313 (service forgery) of the Criminal Code. 

“Intigam Aliyev has been fighting for the rights of others as a lawyer for 15 years and now the legal system has done him great injustice. Trial observers from our International Law in Advocacy Programme raise serious concerns of the violations of the right to a fair trial,” Maria Dahle further explained.

Violations of the rights to a fair trial

There has been several local and international observer and representatives from embassies attending the hearings. Among them are Human Rights House Network (HRHN), Netherlands Helsinki Committee and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, but the authorities tried their best to halter the efforts. Small court rooms, inadequate visibility of the actors in the court room, restrictions on entering and re-entering, inconsistent application of rules on excluding the public and the media have violated the public’s right to record hearings under the international law.

“The right to a public hearing is a vital safeguard for the interest of the defendant and of the society as a whole has not been sufficiently ensured,” said Serghei Ostaf, Executive Director of the Moldovan Resource Centre for Human Rights and observer in several of the proceedings against Intigam Aliyev.

“The equality of arms principle have not been respected as the defence has not been given a reasonable opportunity to present their case and evidence relevant to the case without a substantial disadvantage,” Serghei Ostaf continued.

Denied access to essential documents

Essential motions to present additional factual and other evidence are not taken into consideration (effectively suspended) during the trial by the presiding judges. Neutrality of the court in many instances was broken leading to taking side against the defence, by closing the questions, intervening with the questions of the defence, quashing the question and the answer entirely.

The defendant and his lawyer complained on many irregularities and violations both from the prosecutor and the judiciary about the lack of access to the files and documents of the case. The prosecutor did not allow them to access the investigation materials, even to their own financial materials, which were high importance for the case – during investigation period.  Due to such limitation the lawyers of Intigam Aliyev did not have enough time to examine the investigation materials and prepare their defence properly.

Cage in courtroom

As in other cases in Azerbaijan in which human rights defenders were accused, the defendant has been brought to the court with 11-12 other people in a small car, designed for approximately 9 people. The “coffin-like” car was claustrophobic and frowsy so the defendant felt ill after being brought to the building of the court. During the first hearing Intigam Aliyev was kept in a metal cage that greatly limited contact with his lawyer and created a humiliating image of the accused as a dangerous criminal.

“I am not an animal to be kept in a cage; it is the wild animals in the Zoos that are kept in cages” said Aliyev in one of the proceedings. Asked to let him out of the cage and permit him to sit next to his lawyer, the court denied him this right. He said he considers it an inhuman treatment.

In February, March and April Intigam Aliyev was brought to the court hand-cuffed but was not further forced to remain in a metal cage.

Take action against Azerbijani authorities

There are numerous signs of violations of the right to a fair trail and we are certain the European Court of Human Rights will take the case. “This sentence will only make us work even harder for human rights in Azerbaijan and to influence our government to take action against the repressive authorities in Azerbaijan,” Dahle concludes.

The case and observation of court hearings:

From Intigam Aliyev in court:

“The arrests can take away our freedom, yet not the wish to be free. Our arrest is the continuation of our struggle,” Intigam Aliyev said in his closing speech at the trial, reported by RFE/RL.

“This process that has been on for already about 4 months once again proved that it is not based on law, but rather on other norms and rules. I was deprived of all the means and arguments of defense. And the investigating authorities put into use all the loathsome methods to prove my guilt. That once again proved that my arrest and the trial in itself are politically motivated. I am arrested for my lawyer activity. I have introduced more than 200 cases to the European Court of Human Rights and more than 40 of them are connected with the parliamentary elections,” he said.

According to Intigam Aliyev, the government makes a lot of efforts not to let these cases reach the European Court and be resolved there. The European court has issued a number of recommendations for the normalization of the situation concerning the elections in Azerbaijan. Naturally, this outrages the Azerbaijani leadership. 

“One of the reasons of my arrest is my civil activity, too. I have made a lot of speeches in various European and international organizations. In my speeches, I have stated that the human rights situation in Azerbaijan has aggravated and the freedom of the society has got less. After PACE summer session and the President Ilham Aliyev’s statement there, a campaign against the civil society was initiated in Azerbaijan,” Intigam Aliyev said.