In 2008 police in Azerbaijan illegally detained and beat Emin Huseynov, a journalist, as he was reporting on a public gathering. Yesterday Emin finally saw justice when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Azerbaijan had violated his rights. But Emin will have to celebrate within the confines of the Swiss Embassy in Baku, where he has been living since taking refuge there in August 2014.
Azerbaijan is experiencing one of its worst human rights crises in over two decades since its independence. In a relentless and systematic crackdown, the government is punishing its critics through bogus prosecutions and restrictive regulations limiting space for independent groups. In the past two years, the authorities have detained and brought unfounded criminal charges against dozens of human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, and activists, prompting others to flee the country or go into hiding.
Huseynov, founder and director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom (IRFS) and Safety, a leading independent media rights organization, is among them. He is facing trumped-up criminal charges of tax evasion and other financial offenses. In August, the authorities refused to let him travel to Turkey for medical treatment. A few days later, police raided IRFS’s office, interrogated staff, confiscated computers, and sealed it shut. That’s when Huseynov, fearing arrest, sought refuge in the embassy.
The authorities had long been trying to silence Huseynov and impede his group’s important work. Police had detained and beat him and his staff members several times. In the beating that was the subject of yesterday’s court victory, Huseynov sustained a concussion and spent three days in intensive care. Although the authorities claimed the trauma was from a previous condition, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found that Azerbaijan violated the absolute prohibition on ill-treatment on two counts: the beating and the government’s failure to investigate it properly. It ordered Azerbaijan to pay 20,000 Euros in damages.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as its commissioner for human rights, have repeatedly stressed the Azerbaijani authorities’ tendency to rely on the European Court to rectify shortcomings of the national courts. It’s high time for the authorities to assume their responsibilities in human rights protection. Paying the damages, dropping bogus charges against Huseynov, and allowing him to walk free would be a good start.