a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings in police custody continued. For example, on May 11, Galib Mammadov died in the Sheki police station after police summoned him for questioning. Mammadov’s family alleged police beat him to death and covered up their crime by asserting it was a suicide.
In July and August 2018, the government announced that security services had killed five individuals who allegedly resisted police during their arrest. Authorities claimed the individuals were involved in the July 3, 2018, attempted murder of Ganja mayor Elmar Valiyev and the subsequent July 10, 2018, killing of two police officers. Human rights defenders alleged the five individuals had not resisted arrest and that police and state security services planned the killings in advance to support their narrative of a conspiracy behind the events. Authorities did not conduct an investigation to address the allegations of unlawful killings. There were no such reports during the year.
Following the September 2018 death of Elmir Akhundov after he was summoned for questioning at the Gazakh police station, the district prosecutor’s office launched a criminal case and charged officer Ilham Suleymanov with abuse of authority. The Gazakh regional court convicted Suleymanov of this charge on May 13, gave him a suspended sentence of two years and 10 months, and deprived him of the right to hold national and local government positions. Akhundov’s family alleged his death was caused by physical abuse by police; the government denied any abuse occurred.
Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by France, Russia, and the United States. Violence along the Line of Contact continued at lower levels, compared with previous years. Recurrent shooting caused deaths, primarily among the military. Following the outbreak of violence in 2016, the sides to the conflict submitted complaints to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) accusing each other of committing atrocities during that time. The cases remained pending with the ECHR.
As of December 4, local experts had reported 46 deaths in the security and defense sectors. The number of noncombatant deaths was 37.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The State Committee on the Captive and Missing reported that there were 3,889 citizens registered as missing as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at the end of the year. Of these, 719 were civilians. 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, approximately 4,500 Azerbaijanis and Armenians remained unaccounted for as a result of the conflict.
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 abuse continued. Most mistreatment took place while detainees were in police custody, where authorities reportedly used abusive methods to coerce confessions.
In July 2018 the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published reports on six visits it 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. During its 2017 visit, the CPT delegation reported receiving numerous credible allegations of severe physical abuse that it stated could be considered torture, such as truncheon blows to the soles of the feet and infliction of electric shocks. In contrast with previous visits, during the 2017 visit, the CPT delegation also reported receiving allegations of what it termed “severe ill-treatment/torture” by the State Customs Committee, State Border Service, and armed forces.
According to the nongovernmental Working Group on a Unified List of Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan, during their January and February trial hearings, five supporters of the opposition Popular Front Party–Saleh Rustamov, Agil Maharamov, Babek Hasanov, Ruslan Nasirli, and Valeh Rustamli–testified that police with the Main Organized Crimes Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs tortured them. Maharamov and Hasanov alleged their torture included the use of electric shocks. The working group considered the allegations credible because detainees were held incommunicado for several days, friends and relatives were not allowed to visit them for an extended period, and they remained at the Main Directorate to Combat Organized Crime instead of being moved to a pretrial detention center, as required by law.
The cochairman of the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Believers in Prisons, Eldaniz Guliyev, reportedly stated on May 10 that religious political prisoners were “beaten with rubber truncheons, tortured with electric current, beaten on the heels, and hung on a height…One prisoner was beaten and hung by his legs just because he had asked a warden for medicine.”
According to human right defenders, in court hearings throughout the year, the individuals arrested after the July 2018 attack on then Ganja mayor Elmar Valiyev and subsequent killing of two police officers testified that police and other officials tortured them to coerce false confessions during their questioning. The alleged torture included beating the soles of their feet with batons; subjecting them to electric shocks, in some cases of their genitals; and burning parts of their bodies with lighters. According to family members and court observers, many of the individuals reported Orkhan Babayev of the Prosecutor General’s Office directed the abuse.
Journalist Mehman Huseynov reported he was detained and beaten by police on December 27, approximately six hours after publicly holding a sign supporting a detained rapper in downtown Baku. According to Huseynov, he was thrust into an unmarked car with five plainclothes police officers who beat him while driving for 20 minutes outside Baku to the remote Lokbatan area. Once there, the officers pulled his shirt over his head and continued to beat his torso and legs for another 10 minutes while threatening other acts, such as raping him with a police truncheon. After being abandoned in Lokbatan by the police officers, Huseynov made his way to a medical clinic that documented his injuries. The Ministry of Internal Affairs released a statement on December 28 acknowledging Huseynov had been driven out of the city but rejecting that police abused him.
There were also reports of mistreatment in prison. In February, Muslim Unity Movement leaders Taleh Bagirzade and Abbas Huseynov conducted hunger strikes of 16 days and 14 days, respectively, to protest their alleged mistreatment at the hands of Penitentiary Service officials in Gobustan Prison. According to media reports, Bagirzade reported that prison officials forced him to share quarters with inmates who had tried to set other prisoners on fire and who had exceptionally poor personal hygiene.
Authorities reportedly maintained an implicit ban on independent forensic examinations of detainees who claimed abuse and delayed their access to an attorney–practices that opposition figures and other activists stated made it easier for officers to mistreat detainees with impunity. In July individuals detained after the July 2018 unrest in Ganja complained during various court hearings that forensic examinations that would have revealed police abuse if conducted shortly after their detention were delayed a full year after their arrests.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
According to a reputable prison-monitoring organization, 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 but held women in separate prison facilities after sentencing. Local nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers reported female prisoners typically lived in better conditions, were monitored more frequently, and had greater access to training and other activities, but they noted women’s prisons suffered from many of the same problems as prisons for men. The Ministry of Justice reported that during the year, four children younger than age three lived in adult prison facilities with their incarcerated mothers. The law allows convicted juvenile offenders to be held in juvenile institutions until they are 20 years old.
While the government continued to construct new prison facilities, some operating Soviet-era facilities did not 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 holding them in isolation cells. Local and international monitors reported markedly poorer conditions at the maximum-security Gobustan Prison.
Prisoners claimed they endured lengthy confinement periods without 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. In one example Aydin Gurbanov died in pretrial detention from cancer on July 10. According to his family members, police arrested Gurbanov on trumped-up charges after the July 2018 unrest in Ganja, and he died after prison officials denied him adequate medical care.
Former prisoners and family members of imprisoned activists reported prisoners often had to pay bribes to meet visiting family members, watch television, use toilets or shower rooms, or receive food from outside the detention facility. Although the law permits detainees to receive daily packages of food to supplement the food officially provided, authorities at times reportedly restricted access of prisoners and detainees to family-provided food parcels. Some prisons and detention centers did not provide access to potable water.
Administration: While most prisoners reported they could submit complaints to judicial authorities and the Ombudsman’s Office without censorship, prison authorities regularly read prisoners’ correspondence, monitored meetings between lawyers and clients, and restricted some lawyers from bringing documents in and out of detention facilities.
Some human rights lawyers were at times prevented from entering prisons to speak with their clients by requirements to obtain additional permission and screening from prison officials. For example, lawyer Nemat Kerimli reported prison officials searched him before and after his September 20 visit with his client, Afgan Mukhtarli, and read his case notes following their meeting (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). Mukhtarli went on a three-day hunger strike to protest his lawyer’s treatment; Kerimli was also prevented from meeting with his client in August after Mukhtarli’s wife called attention to other restrictions, including his inability to communicate with his lawyer.
While the Ombudsman’s Office reported conducting systematic visits and investigations into complaints, activists said the office regularly dismissed prisoner complaints in politically sensitive cases. For example, activists claimed the office failed to investigate the allegations of abuse made by N!DA (exclamation point in Azerbaijani) youth movement activist Bayram Mammadov, who stated he was beaten by police and circulated a graphic depiction of the location of his injuries after he was rearrested on March 30, shortly after his release under a March 16 pardon.
Authorities limited visits by attorneys and family members, especially to prisoners widely considered to be incarcerated for political reasons. For example, family members of individuals detained after the July 2018 unrest in Ganja stated that authorities illegally prohibited communication with their relatives for approximately eight months.
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 prisoners of war and civilian internees held in connection with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as to detainees held in facilities under the authority of the Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs and the State Security Services. The ICRC conducted regular visits throughout the year to provide for protection of prisoners under international humanitarian law and regularly facilitated the exchange of messages between them 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 the use of humane alternative punishments had reduced the country’s prison population, and that approximately 2,000 Azerbaijanis avoided incarceration during the year with the use of GPS-enabled electronic bracelets.
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.
NGOs reported the Ministry of Internal Affairs and State Security Service detained individuals who exercised their rights to fundamental freedoms.
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. In all cases deemed to be politically motivated, due process was not respected, and accused individuals were convicted under a variety of spurious criminal charges.
According to the law, detainees must appear before a judge within 48 hours of arrest, and the judge may issue a warrant placing the detainee in pretrial detention, placing the detainee under house arrest, or releasing the detainee. In practice, however, 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.
A formal bail system existed, but judges did not utilize it during the year.
The law provides for access to a lawyer from the time of detention, but there were reports that authorities frequently denied lawyers access to clients in both politically motivated and routine cases. Human rights defenders stated that many of the 77 individuals detained after the July 2018 attempted assassination of the mayor of Ganja and subsequent killing of two police officers were denied access to effective legal representation and were forced to rely on state-appointed lawyers who did not adequately defend their clients due to fear of government reprisal.
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, however, undertook several initiatives to expand legal representation outside the capital, including the establishment of offices in regional Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network centers to provide legal services to local citizens.
Prisoners’ family members reported that authorities occasionally restricted visits, especially to persons in pretrial detention, and withheld information about detainees. Days sometimes passed before families could obtain information about detained relatives. Authorities reportedly used family members as leverage to put pressure on individuals to turn themselves in to police or to stop them from reporting police abuse. Family members of individuals detained after the July 2018 unrest in Ganja stated that authorities illegally prohibited communication with their relatives for approximately eight months to limit the dissemination of information and to hide traces of torture.
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 groups 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 them.
Police regularly detained opposition and other activists on the charges of “resisting police” or “petty hooliganism,” subsequently taking them to local courts where judges sentenced them to periods of administrative detention ranging from 10 to 30 days. Human rights defenders asserted these arrests were one method authorities used to intimidate activists and dissuade others from engaging in activism. For example, at least five members of the opposition Popular Front Party were arrested and sentenced to administrative detention in the week preceding an attempted unsanctioned public rally on October 19. Activists stated the arrests were meant to deter participation. On August 22, the Institute for Democratic Initiatives reported that at least 78 administrative detentions in 2018 were politically motivated.
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 the government completed an investigation.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law 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 did not rule independently in such cases, and while sentences were occasionally reduced, the outcomes often appeared predetermined.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, judges did not function independently of the executive branch. The judiciary remained largely corrupt and inefficient. Many verdicts were legally unsupportable and largely unrelated to the evidence presented during the trial. Outcomes frequently appeared predetermined. Courts often failed to investigate allegations of torture and inhuman treatment of detainees in police custody.
The Ministry of Justice controlled the Judicial Legal Council, which appoints the judicial selection committee that administers the judicial selection process and examination 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 instruction from the presidential administration and the Ministry of Justice, particularly in politically sensitive cases. There were also credible allegations that judges routinely accepted bribes.
On April 3, the president signed a decree on limited reforms in the justice sector. The decree called for an increase in the salary of judges, an increase in the number of judicial positions (from 600 to 800), audio recordings of all court proceedings, and establishment of specialized commercial courts for entrepreneurship disputes. The decree also ordered increased funding for pro bono legal aid. Some measures called for in the decree, such as the establishment of commercial courts and a raise in judicial salaries, were implemented, while others remained pending at year’s end.
The law requires public trials except in cases involving state, commercial, or professional secrets or confidential, personal, or family matters. The law mandates the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. It also mandates the right of defendants to be informed promptly of charges; to a fair, timely, and public trial; to be present at the trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); to provide adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; to confront witnesses and present witnesses’ evidence at trial; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Both defendants and prosecutors have the right to appeal. Authorities did not respect these provisions in many cases that were widely considered to be politically motivated.
Authorities prevented journalists from observing some hearings in the trials of those arrested after the July 2018 unrest in Ganja. Information regarding trial times and locations was generally available.
In some cases trials were unjustifiably delayed. For example, the trial of Musavat activist Azad Hasanov continued for months after evidence was submitted. Human rights defenders asserted that judges were waiting for instructions from the Presidential Administration before ruling.
Although the constitution prescribes equal status for prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges often favored prosecutors when assessing motions, oral statements, and evidence submitted by defense counsel, without regard to the merits of their respective arguments. Judges also reserved the right to remove defense lawyers in civil cases for “good cause.” In criminal proceedings judges may remove defense lawyers because of a conflict of interest or if a defendant requests a change of counsel.
Amendments to the law on legal representation came into force in February 2018. The law previously permitted nonbar lawyers to represent clients in civil and administrative proceedings. Under the amended law, however, only members of the Collegium of Advocates (bar association) are able to represent citizens in any legal process. Representatives of the legal community and NGOs criticized the amended law, asserting it had reduced citizens’ access to legal representation and further empowered the government-dominated bar association to prevent human rights lawyers from representing individuals in politically motivated cases by limiting the number who are bar members in good standing.
The number of defense lawyers willing and able to accept politically sensitive cases remained small due to various measures taken by authorities, including by the Collegium. Such measures included disciplinary proceedings resulting in the censure, suspension, and sometimes disbarment of human rights lawyers. For example, the Collegium officially reprimanded lawyer Elchin Sadigov on February 22 and Nemat Kerimli on October 22. On November 27, the Collegium initiated disbarment proceedings against lawyer Shahla Humbatova for reasons widely considered politically motivated. During the year human rights lawyers Fakhraddin Mehdiyev, Asabali Mustafayev, Nemat Kerimli, and Agil Layij were able to resume practicing law after their periods of suspension concluded. Lawyers were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and other negative actions by police. For example, lawyer Orkhan Kangarli was beaten by officers in the Binagadi police station when he went there to see his client and was then kept in a holding cell for several hours. After investigating the case, the Ministry of Internal Affairs dismissed one officer and demoted another.
The majority of the country’s human rights defense lawyers were based in Baku, which made it difficult for individuals living outside of Baku to receive timely and quality legal services.
During the year the Collegium held examinations for lawyer-candidates and increased its membership from 1,503 to 1,708. Human rights defenders asserted the new members were hesitant to work on human rights-related cases due to fear they would be sanctioned by the Collegium. Some activists and lawyer-candidates stated the examination process was biased and that examiners failed candidates who had previously been active in civil society on various pretexts.
The constitution prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence. Despite some defendants’ claims that police and other authorities obtained testimony through torture or abuse, human rights monitors reported courts did not investigate allegations of abuse, and there was no independent forensic investigator to substantiate assertions of abuse.
Investigations often focused on obtaining confessions rather than gathering physical evidence against suspects. Serious crimes brought before the courts most often ended in conviction, since judges generally sought only a minimal level of proof and collaborated closely with prosecutors.
Human rights advocates reported courts sometimes failed to provide interpreters despite the constitutional right of an accused person to interpretation. Courts are entitled to contract interpreters during hearings, with expenses covered by the state budget.
There were no verbatim transcripts of judicial proceedings. Although some of the newer courts in Baku made audio recordings of some proceedings, courts generally did not record most court testimonies, oral arguments, and judicial decisions. Instead, the court recording officer generally decided the content of notes, which tended to be sparse. A provision in the April 3 presidential decree addressed the problem but had not been implemented by year’s end.
The country has a military court system with civilian judges. The Military Court retains original jurisdiction over any case related to war or military service.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
On March 2, authorities released blogger Mehman Huseynov at the conclusion of his prison sentence for allegedly defaming the police officers whom he accused of beating him. Authorities had opened a new criminal case against him in December 2018 for allegedly attacking a prison guard. Huseynov began a hunger strike to protest the new charges, and following a large public demonstration in his support, the Prosecutor General’s Office dropped the case.
Following the March 16 release of 52 persons widely considered to be political prisoners, nongovernmental estimates of political prisoners and detainees at year’s end ranged from 112 to 135. They included journalists and bloggers, political and social activists, religious activists, individuals arrested in connection with the Ganja case, and the relative of a journalist/activist in exile. The following individuals were among those widely considered to be political prisoners or detainees: Afgan Mukhtarli, Fuad Ahmedli, Orkhan Bakhishli, Saleh Rustamov, Agil Maharramov, Babek Hasanov, Pasha Umidov, Sardar Babayev, and Said Dadashbeyli (also see sections 1.c., 1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 3, and 4).
On February 27, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Azerbaijan Popular Front Party supporter Saleh Rustamov to seven years and three months in prison on charges of money laundering and illegal entrepreneurship, and ordered the confiscation of property belonging to him and his family members. In the same case, the court sentenced Popular Front Party activists Agil Maharramli to four years and Babek Hasanov to three years in prison. Ruslan Nasirli and Vidadi Rustamli received conditional sentences of three years and were released. On May 8 and September 25, respectively, the Baku Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court upheld the verdicts of Rustamov, Hasanov, and Maharramli.
In another case, on May 1, the Surakhani District Court rejected the request of Fuad Ahmadli, a member of the Youth Committee of the Popular Front Party, for early release. On July 5, the Baku Court of Appeals upheld the verdict. In 2017 the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced Ahmadli to four years’ imprisonment for alleged abuse of office, purportedly for illegally accessing private information at the mobile phone operator where he worked. The Baku Court of Appeals upheld the verdict that year, and the Supreme Court rejected his appeal in March 2018. Human rights defenders stated he was punished for participating in protest actions and for criticizing the government on social media, and that denial of his early release, for which he qualified under the law, was an additional punitive measure.
On March 28, the Supreme Court annulled the conditional sentence imposed by the Sheki Court of Appeals when it released the chairman of the opposition Republican Alternative Party, Ilgar Mammadov, in August 2018, removing his travel restrictions and allowing him to leave the country. The law prevents individuals convicted of grave crimes from participating in elections for a period of six years after fulfilling their sentences. The failure of the Supreme Court to fully acquit Mammadov as directed by the ECHR resulted in a de facto ban from political office until August 2024. Six others considered to be former political prisoners whose acquittal was ordered by the ECHR were similarly barred from running for political office.
Political prisoners and detainees faced varied restrictions. Former political prisoners stated prison officials limited their access to reading materials and communication with their families. Authorities provided international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners and detainees.
Politically Motivated Reprisal Against Individuals Located Outside the Country
There were multiple reports of government abuse of international law enforcement tools, such as Interpol, in attempts to detain expatriate activists. For example, government authorities claimed human rights activist Avtandil Mammadov, who reportedly fled the country due to political persecution, was guilty of fraud and issued an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest. Mammadov’s lawyer alleged that all charges against Mammadov were political in nature.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens have the right to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. All citizens have the right to appeal to the ECHR within six months of exhausting all domestic legal options, including an appeal to and ruling by the Supreme Court.
Citizens exercised the right to appeal local court rulings to the ECHR and brought claims of government violations of commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights. The government’s compliance with ECHR decisions was mixed; activists stated the government generally paid compensation but failed to release prisoners in response to ECHR decisions. In some cases considered to be politically motivated, the government withheld compensation ordered by the ECHR. For example, the government did not pay journalist and former political prisoner Khadija Ismayilova the 15,000 euros ($16,500) ordered by the court on January 10 for the state violating her freedom of expression and failing to investigate the invasion of her privacy.
NGOs reported authorities did not respect the laws governing eminent domain and expropriation of property. Homeowners often reported receiving compensation well below market value for expropriated property and had little legal recourse. NGOs also reported many citizens did not trust the court system and were therefore reluctant to pursue compensation claims.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits arbitrary invasions of privacy and monitoring of correspondence and other private communications. The government generally did not respect these legal prohibitions.
In a January 15 article, “In Azerbaijan, big brother is watching you everywhere: offline, online, on mobile devices and social media apps,” journalist Arzu Geybulla reported on the government’s deployment of various information control systems that facilitate its interference with the right to privacy.
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, particularly those of foreigners, prominent youth active online, some political and business figures, and persons engaged in international communication. During the year human rights lawyers asserted that the postal service purposefully lost or misplaced their communications with the ECHR to derail proceedings against the government.
In October security services leaked several recorded conversations between opposition politicians and foreign diplomats related to the human rights situation in the country. Transcripts of the conversations were published in progovernment online media, broadcast on progovernment television, and misrepresented as evidence of inappropriate foreign interference.
Police continued to intimidate, harass, and sometimes arrest family members of suspected criminals, independent journalists, and political opposition members and leaders, as well as employees and leaders of certain NGOs. Other relatives, however, including Elnur Seyidov, the brother in law of opposition Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli, were released.
On April 14, a man attacked Sanay Gahramanli, a legal minor and the daughter of opposition figures Fuad Gahramanli and Zumrud Yagmur, in the street while decrying the family’s political activities. He was later arrested and sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention.
There were reports authorities fired individuals from their jobs or had individuals fired in retaliation for the political or civic activities of family members inside or outside the country. On June 20, a total of 47 members of the Germany-based expatriate organization Choose Democratic Azerbaijan reported pressure on their family members in Azerbaijan, including police summons and warnings, threats, and dismissal from employment.