Justice abused in Azerbaijan
Judiciary remains the scene of some of the gravest human rights violations in Azerbaijan.This is what happens in courts throughout the country:
Observers are not let in courtrooms
It is common for trials to be held behind closed doors, inaccessible to journalists, members of international organizations, corpse diplomatique and whoever else is professionally vested in monitoring how justice works in Azerbaijan. So, cases of journalists Khadija Ismailova and Seimur Khazi, those of human rights activist Leila Yunus and other government critics were handled behind the closed doors. Guards wouldn’t let journalists into the courtroom, saying it was already packed to the brim with attendees. In actuality, the journalists said, while the courtrooms’ seating capacity was 50 people, only six or seven people at the most attended.
“The circumstances leave a big question mark over the fairness of trials and verdicts, said Samira Agayeva, a lawyer who has found herself shut out of court hearings on many an occasion. “Impartiality and objectivity – the main principles of justice – are being violated.
There is bias towards certain litigants
All too often, Azerbaijani court is biased towards one of the litigating parties, ruling favourably on all its motions and agreeing to interrogate all its witnesses, while cutting short the other side’s attempts to substantiate its case. Mostly, the favour is all the prosecution’s.
So, at the preliminary hearings of Khadija Ismailova case, her defense team filed eight motions, but not a single one of them was satisfied. The same happened during the trial of human rights defender and lawyer Intigam Aliev’s case.
“We managed to expose the charges brought against Khadija Ismailova as false and ungrounded, said Fakhraddin Mekhdiev, a member of the journalist’s defense team. “We had proof that witness testimony had been falsified, but the court refused to consider it. Such an attitude is a blatant violation of law.
Presumption of innocence is violated
All defendants, irrespective of the seriousness of the offence they are charged with, are kept in a barred dock during their court appearances. Defense attorneys say this is unacceptable, as by putting people in the cage without proving their guilt first, the court shapes a bias against them, treats them, a priori, as guilty. If nothing else, this violates defendants’ right to confidentially consult with their advocates. Often, advocates have to file motions asking for their defendants to be removed from behind the bars and allowed to sit on the bench beside them, but the motions are rarely granted.
“Keeping defendants in the caged dock does not only humiliate them, but it also is used as a means of putting pressure on them: just think about it, where will a defendant feel more confident and safe – in the cage or beside his lawyer? said Osman Kazimov, a lawyer.
Judiciary is strongly influenced by the executive power
In Azerbaijan, the judiciary is completely subordinate to the executive authorities. Quite routinely and with impunity, officials refuse to obey court orders and even ignore their subpoenas. So, a case was tried not long ago, in which Emin Shahkinskiy, head of the interior ministry’s criminal investigations department, was implicated. The defense team lodged a motion requesting that he appear in court to provide explanations that his designated representative had failed to provide. The motion was granted, but Shahkinskiy never showed up. No questions asked, the judge ruled that the hearings continue in Shahkinskiy’s absence.
Lawyer Khalid Bagirov believes that the situation can only change after judiciary reforms finally start being enforced in Azerbaijan. But there is no political will for this to happen, meaning courts will continue being humiliatingly subjugated. “Our courts are not empowered to summon even a low-ranking official, let alone a minister, said Bagirov.