Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Credible reports emerged during the year regarding unlawful killings during the fall 2020 intensive fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces (see section 1.g. and the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Armenia).
The Office of the Prosecutor General is empowered to investigate whether killings committed by the security forces were justifiable and to pursue prosecutions.
Reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings in police custody continued. For example, on August 2, 31-year-old Tural Ismayilov died in the Siyazan police department on the day of his arrest. According to official information disseminated by law enforcement agencies, his “health suddenly deteriorated in the police station” and he was taken to a hospital, where he died. Ismayilov’s family, however, alleged police tortured him to death.
There was one report of a temporary disappearance by or on behalf of government authorities. On October 22, Azerbaijan Popular Front Party activist Mutallim Orujov, who was deported from Germany and returned to Azerbaijan on June 1, reportedly was summoned by the State Security Service and disappeared for five days. His lawyer did not learn until October 27 that Orujov had been arrested on October 24.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) processed cases of persons missing in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and worked with the government to develop a consolidated list of missing persons. According to the ICRC, more than 5,000 Azerbaijanis and Armenians remained unaccounted for since the 1990s as a result of the conflict. The State Committee on the Captive and Missing reported that, as of December 2020, there were 3,896 Azerbaijanis registered as missing as a result of the fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the 1990s. Of these, 719 were civilians. The Ministry of Defense reported that as of October 21, there were six Azerbaijani service members missing as a result of the fall 2020 fighting.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and criminal code prohibit such practices and provide for penalties for conviction of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, credible allegations of torture and other abuses continued. Most mistreatment took place while detainees were in police custody, where authorities reportedly used abusive methods to coerce confessions. Authorities reportedly denied detainees timely access to family, independent lawyers, or independent medical care. There were credible reports that Azerbaijani forces abused soldiers and civilians held in custody in connection with the conflict in late 2020 (see section 1.g. and the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Armenia).
During the year the government took no action in response to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reports on six visits the CPT conducted to the country between 2004 and 2017. In the reports, the CPT stated that torture and other forms of physical mistreatment by police and other law enforcement agencies, corruption in the entire law enforcement system, and impunity remained systemic and endemic. The CPT visited the country in December 2020 and discussed its findings from that visit at the CPT plenary meeting on June 28 to July 2. At year’s end the CPT’s report from the December 2020 visit had not yet been published.
There were several credible reports of torture during the year. For example, the lawyer of Agil Humbatov, a member of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party widely considered a political prisoner (see section 1.e.), stated that Humbatov’s initial testimony was coerced under torture after his arrest on August 11. In addition, Humbatov informed his lawyer that he had been threatened with rape at the Khazar district police department.
Reports continued of torture at the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Main Department for Combating Organized Crime. Persons reportedly tortured included a civil society activist (see section 4), Muslim Unity Movement member Razi Humbatov, and opposition activist Tofig Yagublu. Pictures of Yagublu were widely available on the internet with his eyes swollen shut, apparently from beatings while he was in police detention in December following a small unsanctioned rally in Baku (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, and section 3).
On November 1, Khanlar Veliyev, the deputy military prosecutor general, acknowledged that more than 100 persons connected with the 2017 Terter case had been subjected to different forms of physical abuse, including torture, that resulted in the deaths of eight suspects, four of whom were posthumously acquitted. The government prosecuted 17 officials for abuse: nine were sentenced to three and one-half years in prison, six were sentenced to six months, and one received a 10-year prison sentence. Investigators who falsified evidence also were sentenced to prison. In the Terter case, authorities detained a group of approximately 100 servicemen and civilians in 2017, allegedly for spying for Armenia. As of year’s end, 27 remained in prison and were considered political prisoners, some serving sentences of up to 20 years.
On July 21, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a decision that found that from 2009 to 2011, authorities tortured and unlawfully deprived Armenian Artur Badalyan of his liberty. The court ordered the state to pay Badalyan 30,000 euros ($34,500) in damages.
There were numerous credible reports of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in custody. For example, human rights defenders reported that on August 12, imprisoned Muslim Unity Movement deputy Abbas Huseynov was beaten by several prison guards in Prison No. 8.
Authorities reportedly maintained an implicit ban on independent forensic examinations of detainees who claimed abuse. Authorities reportedly also delayed detainees’ access to an attorney. Opposition figures and other activists stated that these practices made it easier for officers to mistreat detainees with impunity. In one example, on April 5, opposition Musavat party member Nizamali Suleymanov and his nephew, Akif Suleymanov, were sentenced to 20 days of administrative arrest for allegedly using drugs. After serving their sentences, they were forced to undergo medical treatment at a drug treatment center for six months. They were released on October 27.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
According to prison monitoring conducted by a reputable organization prior to the onset of COVID-19, prison conditions were sometimes harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding; inadequate nutrition; deficient heating, ventilation, and sanitation; and poor medical care. Detainees also complained of inhuman conditions in the crowded basement detention facilities of local courts where they were held while awaiting their hearings.
Physical Conditions: Authorities held men and women together in pretrial detention facilities in separate blocks and held women in separate prison facilities after sentencing. Local nongovernmental (NGO) observers reported female prisoners typically lived in better conditions, were monitored more frequently, and had greater access to training and other activities. The same NGOs noted, however, that women’s prisons suffered from many of the same problems as prisons for men. While the government continued to construct new prison facilities, some Soviet-era facilities were still in operation and failed to meet international standards. Gobustan Prison, Prison No. 3, Prison No. 14, and the penitentiary tuberculosis treatment center reportedly had the worst conditions.
Human rights advocates reported guards sometimes punished prisoners with beatings or by placing them in solitary confinement. Local and international monitors reported markedly poorer conditions at the maximum-security Gobustan Prison.
Prisoners claimed they endured lengthy confinement periods without any opportunity for physical exercise. They also reported instances of cramped, overcrowded conditions; inadequate ventilation; poor sanitary facilities; inedible food; and insufficient access to medical care. One prison monitor noted food delivery and visits resumed after a pause due to the pandemic; the monitor reported overall progress had been made with regards to treatment of inmates and their complaints.
Administration: While most prisoners reported they could submit complaints to judicial authorities and the Ombudsperson’s Office without censorship, prison authorities regularly read prisoners’ correspondence, monitored meetings between lawyers and clients, and restricted some lawyers from taking documents into and out of detention facilities. The Ombudsperson’s Office reported that it conducted systematic visits and investigations into complaints, but activists claimed the office regularly dismissed prisoner complaints in politically sensitive cases.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some prison visits by international and local organizations, including the ICRC and the CPT.
Authorities generally permitted the ICRC access to detainees held in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The ICRC conducted regular visits throughout the year to promote protection of prisoners, including respect for international humanitarian law, and regularly facilitated the exchange of messages between prisoners and their families to help them re-establish and maintain contact.
A human rights community prison-monitoring group, known as the Public Committee, was allowed access to prisons without prior notification to the Penitentiary Service.
Improvements: The Ministry of Justice reported that authorities permitted the use of GPS-enabled electronic monitoring bracelets for more than 2,500 citizens during the year, allowing them to avoid incarceration.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, the government generally did not observe these requirements.
There were reports that the government continued to hold detainees captured after the fall 2020 intensive fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and following the November 2020 cease-fire. There were reports that some detainees from the period prior to the November 2020 cease-fire had been summarily executed (see section 1.g.). Of the 41 Armenians in Azerbaijani detention at year’s end, two Armenians detained during the 2020 fighting were charged with committing crimes during the fighting in the 1990s.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law provides that persons detained, arrested, or accused of a crime be accorded due process, including being advised immediately of their rights and the reason for their arrest, and being given immediate access to counsel. In all cases deemed to be politically motivated, due process was not respected, and accused individuals were frequently detained under a variety of spurious criminal charges.
According to the law, detainees must appear before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. The judge may issue a warrant either placing the detainee in pretrial detention or under house arrest or release the detainee. Authorities at times detained individuals for longer than 48 hours without warrants. The initial 48-hour arrest period may be extended to 96 hours under extenuating circumstances. During pretrial detention or house arrest, the Prosecutor General’s Office must complete its investigation. Pretrial detention is limited to three months but may be extended by a judge up to 18 months, depending on the alleged crime and the needs of the investigation. There were reports of detainees not being informed promptly of the charges against them during the year.
A formal bail system existed, but judges did not utilize it during the year.
The law provides for access to an attorney from the time of detention, but there were reports that authorities frequently denied detainees prompt access to a defense attorney of their choice in both politically motivated and routine cases.
Access to counsel was poor, particularly outside of Baku. Although entitled to legal counsel by law, indigent detainees often did not have such access. The Collegium of Advocates (bar association), however, undertook some initiatives to expand legal representation outside the capital. For example, on November 27, the collegium opened a Regional Advocate Bureau in Sheki and organized pro bono legal services in various regions throughout the year.
The law provides detained individuals the right to contact relatives and have a confidential meeting with their lawyers immediately following detention. Prisoners’ family members reported that authorities occasionally restricted visits, especially to persons in pretrial detention, and withheld information regarding detainees. Days sometimes passed before families could obtain information regarding detained relatives.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities often made arrests based on spurious charges, such as resisting police, illegal possession of drugs or weapons, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of authority, or inciting public disorder. Local organizations and international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the government for arresting individuals exercising their fundamental rights and noted that authorities frequently fabricated charges against those individuals. Police periodically detained opposition and other activists on administrative charges, such as insubordination to police, and subsequently took them to local courts where judges sentenced them to periods of administrative detention ranging from 10 to 30 days. Those charged with criminal offenses were sentenced to lengthier periods of incarceration (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). Human rights defenders asserted these arrests were one method authorities used to intimidate activists and dissuade others from engaging in activism. For example, on December 2, the government detained four activists from the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and one independent activist following their participation in a peaceful assembly to demand release of Popular Front political prisoner Saleh Rustamli. The activists were charged with violation of the infection control, health, sanitation and quarantine regime of the administrative offenses code and sentenced to detention ranging from 15 to 30 days.
Pretrial Detention: Authorities held persons in pretrial detention for up to 18 months, the maximum allowed by law. The Prosecutor General’s Office routinely extended the initial three-month pretrial detention period permitted by law in successive increments of several months until authorities completed an investigation.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides that persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis, length, or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. The judiciary, however, did not rule independently in such cases, and while sentences were occasionally reduced, the outcomes often appeared predetermined.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, judges were not functionally independent of the executive branch. The judiciary remained largely corrupt and inefficient, and lacked independence. Many verdicts were legally unsupportable and largely unrelated to the evidence presented during a trial, with outcomes frequently appearing predetermined. For example, in October opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party member Niyameddin Ahmedov was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a questionable “terrorist financing” charge. Human rights groups concluded the prosecution lacked credible evidence proving his guilt and the trial was politically motivated. Courts often failed to investigate allegations of torture and inhuman treatment of detainees in police custody.
There also were reports that the government prosecuted Armenian civilians and servicemembers that it took into custody both during the fall 2020 hostilities and following the November 2020 cease-fire in trials that lacked due process (see section 1.g.).
The Ministry of Justice controlled the Judicial Legal Council, which appoints the committee that administers the judicial selection process and examinations and oversees long-term judicial training. The council consists of six judges, a prosecutor, a lawyer, a council representative, a Ministry of Justice representative, and a legal scholar.
Credible reports indicated that judges and prosecutors took instructions from the Presidential Administration and the Justice Ministry, particularly in politically sensitive cases. There were also credible allegations that judges routinely accepted bribes.
The law prohibits arbitrary invasions of privacy and monitoring of correspondence and other private communications. The government generally did not respect these legal prohibitions.
While the constitution allows for searches of residences only with a court order or in cases specifically provided for by law, authorities often conducted searches without warrants. It was widely reported that the State Security Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs monitored telephone and internet communications (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom), particularly those of foreigners, prominent youth who were active online, and some political and business figures, activists, and persons engaged in international communication. Human rights lawyers asserted the postal service purposely lost or misplaced communications with the ECHR to inhibit proceedings against the government.
Throughout the year some websites and social media sources published leaked videos of virtual meetings and recorded conversations of opposition figures. It was widely believed that government law enforcement or intelligence services were the source of the leaked videos. For example, in March, the day after activist Narmin Shahmarzade was detained with 20 women attempting to stage a rally to raise awareness on domestic violence, doctored files from her smart phone appeared on a Telegram channel entitled, “Shahmarzade’s disclosures,” which included videos purporting to show her engaging in sexual acts. Authorities also allegedly hacked her Facebook profile, changing her profile name to “Shamtutan Narmin” (Slut Narmin). Activists believed government authorities were behind the campaign of intimidation.
There were reports the government punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. For example, in March videos were disseminated purporting to show private citizen (and daughter of Jamil Hasanli, an opposition leader in exile) Gunel Hasanli engaged in sexual acts in her own bedroom in an effort to demean her. Hasanli released a statement explaining she had become a “target of such a large-scale (government) operation” when she started dating “Mahir,” a man whom she met online. Mahir was reportedly identified in the sex videos disseminated on Telegram channels that featured Hasanli. Hasanli said the relationship became serious, with Mahir giving her a gold ring and proposing to her. She claimed that Mahir drugged her one day to have one of the videos recorded. He later deleted all evidence of their relationship on her smart phone. Hasanli said she later suffered from severe allergic reactions and went to the hospital several times. She concluded, “The only purpose of abusing my desire to get married and own a nest in such a dirty and disgusting way is to discredit my father Jamil Hasanli, to overshadow his political activity, and this is what hurts me the most. I want to say that my father…had no information about my personal life.” A third sex video was disseminated on Telegram in April.
In contrast with 2020, during the year there were no public reports that authorities fired individuals from jobs or had individuals fired in retaliation for the political or civic activities of family members inside or outside the country.
Killings: Credible reports continued of unlawful killings involving summary executions during the fall 2020 intensive fighting involving Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Armenia-supported separatists (also see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Armenia).
The sides to the conflict submitted complaints to the ECHR accusing each other of committing atrocities. The cases remained pending with the court.
In a March 12 report, Human Rights Watch documented two cases in which detainees died in Azerbaijan captivity a few months earlier. The available evidence indicated that one of the detainees, 44-year-old Arsen Gharakhanyan, was most likely the victim of an unlawful execution. Seen alive in two online videos in January after being detained by Azerbaijani soldiers, Gharakhanyan did not appear in the videos to be wounded. After his body was found on January 18 near the village of Aygestan, Human Rights Watch reported that photographs of the location showed a grave that appeared to be fresh, while his body, which had gunshot entry wounds, did not show any obvious signs of decomposition. According to Human Rights Watch, Armenian forensics experts assessed that he had been shot on January 15, two days after the ECHR had asked the government to provide information on his whereabouts.
According to a joint report released in May by the NGOs the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Truth Hounds, When Embers Burst into Flames – International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law Violations during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, members of Azerbaijan’s armed forces unlawfully executed four captured Armenian combatants and three Armenian civilians. The report also stated that Azerbaijani forces were responsible for the enforced disappearance of at least one Armenian civilian and that another Armenian civilian died due to the conditions of his detention. According to the report, “All nine documented deaths violate the [International Humanitarian Law] prohibition on violence to life and person and constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The cases further violate…Azerbaijan’s Law concerning the Protection of Civilian Persons and the Rights of Prisoners of War and constitute criminal offences under…Azerbaijan’s Criminal Code. In the absence of lawful justification, these deaths equally constitute gross violations of the right to life under Article 2 of the [European Convention on Human Rights].”
According to multiple Armenian sources, civilians attempting to remain in their homes in territory captured by Azerbaijan were taken into custody or killed, including elderly civilians who had no weapons. On August 10, the Washington, D.C.-based Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights in partnership with Armenia’s International and Comparative Law Center announced that it had filed cases with the ECHR regarding 19 Armenians killed in 10 separate incidents while in the custody of Azerbaijani forces or in prison in Azerbaijan.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: In a March 12 report, Human Rights Watch documented several cases from September 2020 through early January 2021 in which Azerbaijani forces used violence to detain civilians and subjected them to torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Among the cases cited by Human Rights Watch was that of Sasha Gharakhanyan, a 71-year-old ethnic Armenian civilian and the father of Arsen Gharakhanyan, both of whom were captured in October 2020 in Hadrut. In November 2020 a video began circulating on social media with Azerbaijani soldiers shown forcing Sasha to kiss the Azerbaijani flag and repeat “Karabakh is Azerbaijan.” In December Azerbaijan returned him to Armenia as part of a group of 44 detainees. He spent the next 10 days in the hospital. Sasha Gharakhanyan’s wrists and ankles were deeply scarred from having been tightly bound with wire, and he had scars on the back of his head, where he said a soldier had hit him several times with a rifle butt, as well as on his back from being poked with a metal rod. X-rays showed that one of his ribs was fractured and that he had a broken nose.
Human Rights Watch assessed that the willful killing and mistreatment of Armenians detained by Azerbaijani forces constituted “war crimes under international humanitarian law.”
On March 19, Human Rights Watch reported that Azerbaijani forces abused Armenian “prisoners of war” captured during the 2020 intensive fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, subjecting them to torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, including punishment when they were captured, during their transfer, or while in custody at various detention facilities. The facilities included three in Baku: the Military Police detention facility, the National Security Ministry Detention Facility, and pretrial Detention Facility #1 in Baku’s Kurdakhani settlement. Human Rights Watch characterized the abuse as torture and “a war crime” and noted Azerbaijan’s failure to account for the fate of missing Armenian soldiers last seen in Azerbaijani custody. Human Rights Watch reported it examined and verified more than 20 videos of Azerbaijani forces apparently mistreating Armenian servicemen in their custody. The verification process included interviews with recently repatriated detainees and family members of servicemen who appeared in the videos but had not returned at the time of the report.
Human Rights Watch also reviewed medical documents and reported that repatriated detainees all described prolonged and repeated beatings. One described being prodded with a sharp metal rod, another said he was subjected to electric shocks, and a third person stated he was burned repeatedly with a cigarette lighter. The men reported they were given very little water and little to no food in the initial days of their detention.
Using satellite images, researchers from several organizations reported destruction of two Armenian cemeteries in the newly returned territories after the cessation of the 2020 hostilities. Caucasus Heritage Watch, a research initiative led by archaeologists at Cornell and Purdue Universities, published photographs from June 2020 and April 8, 2021, showing the complete demolition of the Boyuk Taglar (Mets Tagher) cemetery in Khojavend District. Other researchers further confirmed the destruction via Google Earth images from June 2020 and August 2021. Analysis of Google Earth images by open-source investigator Alexander McKeever supported this conclusion. Caucasus Heritage Watch also published satellite photographs from September 2020 and April 12 and June 18, 2021, that showed the complete destruction of the Sighnaq (Sghnakh) cemetery in the Khojaly region.
In late 2020 authorities arrested four soldiers for desecrating bodies and grave sites; during the year the government did not release updates regarding the status of their cases.
Multiple videos, eyewitness testimony, and other evidence strongly suggested that at least 25 Armenian servicemen disappeared after having been taken into custody by Azerbaijani forces during or after the fall 2020 fighting. For example, two videos showed Azerbaijani soldiers questioning Arsen Karapetyan and Norik Arakelyan while in detention. Separate applications were submitted to the ECHR on their behalf, asking the court to apply urgent measures to protect their right to life and right to be free from inhuman treatment. The court granted requests for an interim measure and invited Azerbaijan to specify if the individuals were known to the authorities, whether they were under Azerbaijani control and, if so, how they were treated. In response, the Azerbaijan government stated it was unable to identify the men.
In another example, several repatriated Armenian servicemen reported having seen Alexander Yeghiazaryan in Baku. As of year’s end, the government had not acknowledged holding Yeghiazaryan, Karapetyan, or Arakelyan. The government stated it returned some of the individuals deemed missing, disputed that videos depicting the detention of missing Armenians were taken in Azerbaijan, and said it was investigating other cases of missing persons.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: In their May report, When Embers Burst into Flames – International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law Violations during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, the NGOs IPHR and Truth Hounds reported that Azerbaijani armed forces “appear to have deliberately targeted Armenian hospitals, medical transport, and medical personnel in at least five documented incidents” during the fall 2020 fighting. According to the report, “On the face of it, the documented incidents constitute deliberate targeted attacks on hospitals and medical transport. The incidents require immediate and thorough investigation by relevant authorities. If the incidents are confirmed as deliberate attacks on protected objects, this would constitute a serious violation of [International Humanitarian Law].…”
Reportedly, some Armenian servicemen detained by Azerbaijan were not permitted detainee visits from nor allowed to communicate with their families until February, months after they were taken captive.
The government prosecuted detained Armenian civilians and servicemen in public trials that lacked elements of due process such as the right to choose one’s own legal counsel. Azerbaijani authorities reportedly took dual Lebanese-Armenian citizen Viken Euljekian into custody in November along with another Lebanese-Armenian, Maral Najarian. Najarian was released after spending four months in an Azerbaijani jail. Authorities released a video of Euljekian confessing, under apparent duress, that he had fought as a mercenary for $2,500. In a rapid trial in which he was not permitted a lawyer of his own choosing, Euljekian reportedly was convicted of participating in a military conflict as a mercenary, terrorism committed by an organized group, and illegal crossing of a state border; he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Court proceedings in the case of civilians Gevorg Sujyan and Davit Davtyan similarly violated due process by failing to provide them with independent legal counsel of their own choosing; compelling both to testify against themselves or confess guilt; and not allowing them to call and examine their own witnesses. They were convicted of espionage and illegal border crossing and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Azerbaijan reportedly tried 54 of the 62 Armenian servicemen it captured near Hadrut in December 2020. The group claimed that they had been issued weapons and “sent to protect the border” on November 27, following the November 9 cease-fire. The servicemen were charged individually with illegal border crossing, illegal possession of weapons, participating in an illegal group, and terrorism (for killing four Azerbaijani soldiers weeks after the cease-fire). The men were assigned public defenders; none were permitted to hire their own attorneys. Several stated that they had not seen the attorney representing them before meeting them in the courtroom during the trial and were not provided relevant documents. Some persons captured with this group were returned to Armenia without a conviction, a few were repatriated while their trials were underway, and some were repatriated after six months when they were released for time served. The sentences for the 38 men who remained in custody reportedly ranged from four to six years. Convicted servicemen repatriated to Armenia after “time served” were not provided with documentation related to their convictions.
There were reported cases of individuals who allegedly should have been released under the terms of the November 2020 cease-fire but who were instead incarcerated. In one such case, the authorities put on trial two individuals – Alyosha Khosrovyan and Ludwig Mkrtchyan – who were captured before the November 2020 cease-fire arrangement. The terms of the cease-fire arrangement publicly committed all parties to exchange prisoners of war, hostages, and other detained persons. Captured in October 2020, Khosrovyan and Mkrtchyan were convicted and sentenced on August 2 to 20 years in prison for alleged “war crimes” committed during fighting in the 1990s.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the government made some progress in combating low-level corruption in the provision of government services, there were continued reports of corruption by government officials, including those at the highest levels.
Transparency International and other observers described corruption as widespread. There were reports of corruption in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. For example, in six reports on visits made to the country between 2004 and 2017, the CPT noted that corruption in the country’s entire law enforcement system remained “systemic and endemic.” In a report on its most recent visit to the country in 2017, for example, the CPT cited the practice of law enforcement officials demanding payments in exchange for dropping or reducing charges or for releasing individuals from unrecorded custody. These problems persisted throughout the year. Media reported that on April 26, the head of the Shamkir Executive Committee Alimpasha Mammadov was detained on corruption-related charges.
Similar to previous years, authorities continued to punish individuals for exposing government corruption. For example, during the year police detained two civil society activists who were then turned over to the Main Department to Combat Organized Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The two activists were preparing a media story about government corruption. Main Department to Combat Organized Crime officials reportedly tortured one of these individuals.
Corruption: The Anticorruption Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that it investigated 600 criminal cases against 405 officials and sent 274 criminal cases to the courts during the year. While no senior officials were prosecuted, several high-ranking officials were arrested and charged. Several such cases remained under investigation at year’s end, including charges of corruption against the minister of culture and other high-ranking ministry officials, multiple ambassadors, several department heads at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and several heads and deputy heads of regional executive committees (governors). Although those accused were charged with corruption, the arrests were not accompanied by systemic reforms, such as requiring all officials to comply with the asset declaration law or ending punitive measures against persons who exposed corruption. Many observers considered the arrests to have political or economic motives that were unrelated to combating corruption.
On June 29, the OCCRP published an article regarding Izzatkhanim Javadova and Suleyman Javadov, who had family ties to the ruling elite and who allegedly received $19.6 million from questionable sources. According to the United Kingdom’s (UK) National Crime Agency, the family used a network of 20 companies based mostly in offshore locations to transfer the funds into their UK accounts. UK investigators identified six of the companies as being part of the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” which allowed the country’s ruling elite to embezzle funds, avoid taxes, launder money, pay bribes to European parliamentarians, purchase properties, and fund luxurious lifestyles. On July 7, the OCCRP published information that the Javadovs had agreed to hand over $5.5 million to UK authorities and settle an inquiry into the origin of their financial wealth.
On October 7, the OCCRP published an investigation revealing the wife, daughter, and son-in-law of former speaker of the Milli Majlis (parliament) Oktay Asadov (2005-20) acquired luxurious properties in London, Dubai, and Moscow. In total, the Asadovs reportedly acquired assets valued at almost $10 million.
There were credible reports that paying bribes could obtain a waiver of the military service obligation, which is universal for men between ages 18 and 35. Citizens also reported military personnel could buy assignments to easier military duties for a smaller bribe.
The government continued efforts to reduce low-level corruption and improve government services by expanding the capabilities and number of service centers of the State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations, which functioned as one-stop locations for government services, such as obtaining birth certificates and marriage licenses, from nine ministries.