The case of Azerbaijani political activist Ilgar Mammedov is fast becoming a test-case of the resilience and integrity of those European institutions that are meant to be the guardians of human rights on the continent. Mammedov was arrested earlier this year after visiting the town of Ismaili at a time when rioting was taking place. Mammedov is accused of inciting the riot.
Unrests in Ismailli district began on the evening of January 23, after an accident involving the nephew of the head of the local administration Nizami Alekperov, and the son of the Minister of Labor Fizuli Alekperov – Vugar Alekperov, triggering a riot. The participants set fire to a number of commercial entities belonging to officials. Special Forces and internal troops entered the district using rubber bullets and tear gas There were dozens of arrests and many injured as a result of clashes. Mammedov, who is also Director of the Council of Europe Schgool for Political Studies in Baku and co-Chair of the social movement “Real”, went to Ismaili to investigate the incident and was subsequently arrested and accused of inciting the riot.
His case was raised this week by the Council of Europe, an institution that has traditionally been the beacon of human rights on the continent. Azerbaijan is a member of the Council and will take over its rotating chairmanship in 2014. There is great unease in European circles about the message this will send, and frustration at a deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan at this juncture.
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, in a statement on 3 May, expressed his concern and disappointment at the new charges brought against Ilgar Mammadov. In his statement Jagland said,
“Despite international demands for his release, the Azeri authorities are bringing new charges against him. This is particularly disappointing and worrying in the light of the Azeri chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe scheduled for May 2014. Not only was the Council of Europe representative in Baku not admitted to the initial trial in February, but, in addition, a group of Council of Europe ambassadors who recently visited Azerbaijan was not allowed to visit Ilgar Mammadov. I urgently call on the Azeri authorities to engage in dialogue with the international community.”
In a swift response the head of the Political Affairs Department in the Azerbaijan Presidential Administration, Ali Hasanov dismissed the criticism and said that in the context of the legal system it was not the Azerbaijani government who initiated the case against Mammedov but the relevant law enforcement bodies. Hassanov said that “to blame the Azerbaijani authorities on this issue is baseless.” Hassanov said that it was the Court that decided to put Mammedov under arrest. “Apparently, in the course of the investigation, new facts have been revealed and additional charges were brought against him. The Azerbaijani authorities do not interfere in the results and in the work of the judiciary. The Government can only express its position on this matter once the legal process has been exhausted, “he added.
Hassanov also commented on the fact that during the recent visit of the Council of Europe ambassadors to Azerbaijan they were not allowed to meet with Ilgar Mamedov: “In order to meet a person, who is under preventive custody the law requires certain procedures. If the appropriate procedure had been followed in time there would not have been a problem.”