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European court proceedings lead to acquittal of opposition politician

Ilgar Mammadov v. Azerbaijan  |2014 and 2019

European court proceedings lead to acquittal of opposition politician

...the actual purpose of the impugned measures was to silence or punish [Ilgar Mammadov] for criticising the Government...

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, May 2014 – Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Background

In 2013, opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov travelled to a small town in Azerbaijan where rioting had broken out. He wanted to get first-hand information about the events.

Ilgar wrote about his trip in a blog post in which he criticised the government.

When prosecutors later called him in for questioning, Ilgar learned that he had been accused of inciting the town’s residents to riot. He strongly denied this accusation, which he claimed was an attempt to frame him for political reasons.

Ilgar was ultimately charged with criminal offences. An Azerbaijani court ordered him to be detained pending trial. He unsuccessfully appealed his detention.

In March 2014, Ilgar was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court initially ruled that Ilgar was detained without “reasonable suspicion” of having committed a crime. That violated his right to liberty.

Ilgar’s detention was intended to silence or punish him for political reasons, the court found. His right to be presumed innocent was also breached, because the authorities had issued a statement encouraging people to believe he was guilty.

Follow-up

 

The unprecedented and successful use of the infringement procedure shows that our members take this obligation very seriously.

Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić

 

Following the European court’s judgment, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers called on Azerbaijan to release Ilgar without delay. 

In a second ruling, in November 2017, the European court found that Ilgar’s trial in Azerbaijan, on the same criminal charges the court had criticised in its 2014 judgment, also violated his rights.

The following month, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers referred Ilgar’s case to the European court asking whether Azerbaijan had failed to respect its obligation to implement the court’s 2014 judgment. Ilgar remained in detention, despite the Committee’s repeated calls for Azerbaijan to release him.

This was the first time the Council of Europe had launched this procedure against a member state.

Azerbaijan released Ilgar in August 2018 while the European court was considering his case. However, his conviction remained, and Ilgar continued to suffer serious personal and professional consequences.

In May 2019, the European court confirmed that Azerbaijan had failed to fully implement its 2014 ruling in Ilgar’s case.

The court underlined that the authorities’ actions had been driven by improper motives, contrary to the human rights convention, and that Azerbaijan was required to end the negative consequences that Ilgar suffered.

In response to the European court’s judgment, Azerbaijan’s supreme court re-examined Ilgar’s case and quashed his conviction in April 2020. The Committee of Ministers then closed the case.

The Committee continues to supervise a number of cases against Azerbaijan relating to the arbitrary arrest and detention of government critics, civil society activists and human rights defenders.