August 1999 Vol. 11, No. 9 (D)
IMPUNITY FOR TORTURE
Oil and the Economy
Recent Human Rights Developments
The United States
European Union and Council of Europe
Multilateral Lending Institutions
Baku City Police Department (Gorotdel)
Other Baku Police Stations
Remand Prisons (SIzos)
LACK OF JUDICIAL REDRESS
The Procuracy and Judge's Treatment of Coerced Testimony
Lack of Procedural Safeguards
Lack of Commitment to Accountability
Physical abuse and torture are rampant in police custody in Azerbaijan. Police routinely beat detainees-whether suspected of petty common crimes or political offenses-to coerce them into confessing or giving testimony. The government at the highest levels has shown little commitment to curbing police impunity for physical abuse, and to vigorously implementing the drastic reform of the legal system that is urgently needed to protect detainees. The result is a clear message to lower-level officials that torture is an acceptable practice during criminal investigations.
A plethora of testimony from victims, their relations, and attorneys points to a systematized pattern of physical abuse and torture of those detained on suspicion of politically motivated crimes, such as participation in the attempts to overthrow the government, and common crimes. In January 1997, Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Procuracy General issued a joint statement reporting that between October 1994 and January 1997 approximately 2,000 people had been arrested on suspicion of terrorist activity and plotting to seize power. Those arrested included employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Defense, alleged members of "illegal armed formations" or paramilitary organizations, members of the former Azerbaijani Popular Front government, and other prominent opposition politicians. Also arrested were political activists, journalists, and those who demonstrated publicly against the government of the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev after he assumed power in 1993. Many of these cases went to trial in 1996 and 1997. The trials of some of these individuals brought to light widespread allegations that the police and other security forces systematically tortured detainees to extract confessions and false testimony. Many defendants at trial retracted their signed confessions and testimony against others, providing detailed descriptions of the systematic abuse-in some cases shocking in its brutality-that they suffered during lengthy periods in the lock-up of the Baku City Police Department and in other facilities.
Human Rights Watch's investigation found that systematic abuse of political detainees occurred in the lock-up of the Baku City Police Department, but also in other facilities, including the Presidential Special Department, a special military counterintelligence unit. In some cases, Human Rights Watch found that abuse of many political detainees went on for months during prolonged periods of incommunicado detention in these facilities.
Our investigation also found that police routinely subject those detained for nonpolitical criminal offenses, ranging from petty property crimes to drug possession or murder, to severe beatings, depriving them of food and water, and restricting their access to family members and lawyers. Such abuse frequently occurred at local police stations where suspects and witnesses are held immediately after detention, but in some cases abuse continued throughout the prolonged periods of pretrial detention. The physical abuse suffered in these facilities resulted in death for some suspects, while others suffered months-long incapacitation and hospitalization.
The Azerbaijani criminal justice system-which has seen little reform since the Soviet period-offers some insight into how such persistent and wide-scale abuse occurs unchecked, as it grants the prosecution wide powers concerning pretrial custody, access to lawyers, and access to forensic evidence. Under Azerbaijani law, detainees do not have the right to appeal to a judge regarding the lawfulness of their detention or to protest ill-treatment until their case goes to court, an egregious violation of international law governing detainees' rights. Custody during the investigation and prior to trial is the rule, rather than the exception, which often takes the form of incommunicado detention. Azerbaijani law provides for suspects to be granted bail or to be released on their own recognizance, but such conditional release is almost never granted-even for first-time offenders accused of petty property crimes. The vast majority of detainees remain in custody in temporary holding facilities or remand prisons.
After detention, suspects are frequently kept without charge in temporary holding facilities in police stations well beyond time limits prescribed in Azerbaijani law. Equally alarming, Azerbaijani law empowers the procuracy to extend pretrial detention periods repeatedly, and in exceptional circumstances without limits. Human Rights Watch found that the most severe and routine physical abuse of detainees takes place just prior to and during the preliminaryinvestigation, as police and other investigators isolate detainees from all contact with the outside world, and beat and coerce confessions from suspects and statements from witnesses.
During the same period that detainees are being coerced into making statements, police also frequently pressure them not to seek counsel or to accept a state-appointed government lawyer who in fact does not defend their interests. When detainees or their families can afford an independent defense lawyer, police and investigators have simply refused requests from lawyers for access to their clients in lock-ups and remand prisons. Even if the detainee's lawyer succeeds in obtaining permission from the procuracy investigator to meet with his or her client as required under Azerbaijani criminal procedure, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has jurisdiction over-and thus control of physical access to-the majority of pretrial detention facilities in Azerbaijan, while all remaining pretrial facilities are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of National Security or other security forces. Lawyers complained that procuracy investigators and prison and other ministry officials simply refused them access to their clients, and that in some facilities access is almost never granted. This has led to lengthy incommunicado detention of detainees in remand prisons, which allows the evidence of beatings and abuse, such as bruises, burn marks, and broken bones, to heal and fade.
Once suspects are charged, most in Baku are sent either to the Bail or Shuvelan remand prison, where detainees are warehoused for months and sometimes years. A visit in November 1997 by a Human Rights Watch investigator to Bail found conditions in this facility so poor that they amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment. Bail was so overcrowded as to require detainees to sleep in shifts in cells that lack proper ventilation and light. Detainees in some cases were seen to be extremely thin and malnourished, raising concerns about lack of adequate food and vitamins. Former detainees who had been in other remand prisons reported that these facilities are equally or more overcrowded.
Even when lawyers do gain access to clients in lock-ups and remand prisons, they do not have the right under Azerbaijani law to arrange independent, objective forensic medical examinations to establish the nature and cause of a detainee's injuries, key evidence at trial to support a claim that the detainee has been tortured, and that their confession or other testimony was obtained through coercion. Azerbaijani law grants the police or procuracy investigator handling a case the authority to approve or reject a detainee's or lawyer's request for a forensic medical examination, and appeals of such a refusal may be made only to higher level procuracy officials. Moreover, forensic medical examiners are all state employees, and detainees do not have the right to be treated by their own doctors. Only testimony by a doctor from the state forensic medical examiner's office is acceptable to establish the cause of a detainee's injuries in court. Human Rights Watch found that some judges also denied requests for forensic medical examinations that could prove torture, while in other cases lengthy periods of pretrial detention allowed signs of abuse to heal so that forensic examinations could not establish the cause of injuries.
This report is based primarily on a fact-finding mission to Azerbaijan in November and December 1997, when Human Rights Watch interviewed twenty-two victims of abuse, their relatives, and lawyers. We also spoke at length with officials from the Procuracy General, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court, and the presidential administration. During the mission Human Rights Watch researchers traveled to Baku, Lenkoran, and Ganja and visited eight detention facilities. The present report focuses on victims of the rampant and unchecked abuse of detainees in recent years in Azerbaijan. As such, it does not focus on abuses committed by the security forces under previous Azerbaijani governments, and is not intended to minimize that abuse. Human Rights Watch notes that credible allegations of abuses under each of the preceding governments of Azerbaijan were widespread and severe, including allegations of summary executions, and beatings and other abuse that led to the deaths of suspects in custody.