(Berlin) – The Azerbaijan authorities should release 18 people, including a prominent religious scholar and a leading political opposition activist, who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to long prison sentences on January 25, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. Seventeen of the men alleged that police severely ill-treated them in detention to coerce confessions and testimony against others. The authorities targeted the political activist for criticizing government policies on Facebook.
“The Azerbaijan authorities completely failed to take seriously or properly investigate the serious allegations of torture and convicted 17 people based on evidence tainted by these allegations,” said Jane Buchanan, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Convictions based on torture-tainted evidence violate basic rights guarantees and cannot be allowed to stand. The authorities should act in line with their international obligations, quash the convictions, and release those detained.”
Most of the men were arrested on November 26, 2015, during a raid in Nardaran, a Baku suburb known for its Shia religious conservatism and criticism of government policies. The raid turned violent under unclear and disputed circumstances, with shootings leaving two police and seven civilians dead. Among those convicted is Taleh Bagirov, a religious scholar, imam, and leader of the Muslim Unity public movement.