On May 26, Baku Court on Grave Crimes chaired by Judge Rauf Aliyev announced verdict on the case of Anar Mammadli, chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS), Bashir Suleymanli, executive director of the organization, and Elnur Mammadov, head of the Volunteers International Cooperation Public Union.
The court handed down 5.5 and 3.5 years of prison sentences to Mammadli and Suleymanli, and a 3.5-year conditional sentence to Mammadov.
The hearing this morning started with speeches by the defendants’ lawyers.
Mammadli’s lawyer Elchin Sadigov said that the criminal case itself was opened illegally, as the Serious Crimes Investigation Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office does not have the right to start a criminal case on tax offences.
“On the other hand, the remarks on non-payment of VAT are unfounded, because grants are exempt from this tax. VAT is not applied to grants awarded by the Council of State Support to NGOs. The largest NGO of the country, Heydar Aliyev Foundation does not pay VAT either” Sadigov said.
Elnur Mammadov’s lawyer Javad Javadli backed his colleague adding that in accordance with Azerbaijani legislation and intergovernmental agreement with the U.S., grants are exempt from VAT, which is referred to as the reason for opening the criminal case in question.
Mammadli’s second lawyer Irada Javadova drew attention to the fact that only one person from 20 victims and 21 witnesses gave evidence against the accused in court. She said the fact that grant agreement is not registered does not affect its status of a grant agreement, because “we are talking about provision of financial assistance for non-commercial activity”.
Suleymanli’s lawyer Alibaba Rzayev shared the view of his colleagues, and expressed the opinion that the charge under Article 308.2 (abuse of power , entailing grave consequences, or committed in order to influence the outcome of elections (referendum) , reveals the true purpose of prosecution of the defendants.
He believes that all other charges, in particular, appropriation, are meant to show as if the grant from the U.S. National Democratic Institute was “appropriated.” “And if the funds have been appropriated, that means there was no monitoring of elections, and a critical report on its results has been “falsified.” The essence of the conviction is that although nothing about it is noted in the indictment, during the trial it was confirmed that the actual monitoring was conducted,” said Rzayev.
Then the accused were given opportunity to speak.
Anar Mammadov congratulated the attendees on the occasion of the Republic Day, noting that after the restoration of Azerbaijan’s independence much could have been done to achieve the values proclaimed 96 years ago by the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. However, persecution of people for freedom of expression and association shows that 22 years of independence were a time of missed opportunities. He further drew attention to the beginning of Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on May 14.
The other day in the Champions League final match, Atletico Madrid football club entered the field in t-shirts saying “Azerbaijan – Land of Fire” which has attracted the world’s attention to Azerbaijan.
“But I fear that by the end of the chairmanship in the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan will become known as the “Land of political prisoners,” said Mammadov. He further stated that the lawsuit was instituted to punish civil activism and independent monitoring of elections.
“It is impossible that the organization conducting monitoring of elections since 2001 would have been a criminal organization, as the investigation tries to portray it,” said Mammadov.
He pointed out that the registration of EMDS’ predecessor Election Monitoring Center was canceled in 2008 and the Justice Ministry refuses to register the new EMDS. Therefore Mammadov had to receive grants as an individual.
But the organization has been transparent, and in 2008 through 2013 it received 480,000 manat as grants. These funds were exempt from VAT and some other taxes. Nevertheless, Mammadli paid taxes from his salary at an amount of 12,000 manat.
However, after the change in the law at the beginning of 2013 for realization of the project of monitoring presidential elections, EMDS had to engage as a partner the Volunteers International Cooperation Public Union (VICPU).
Mammadli pointed out the absurdity of the charges in influencing the outcome of the presidential election, for this article may refer to members of election commissions , state and municipal officials.
Suleymanli and Mammadov also denied the charges, and called on the court to make an acquittal verdict.
Background: Anar Mammadli was detained on 16 December 2013, on charges of running business without registration, tax evasion and abuse of office by influencing election results. He was sent to pretrial detention straight away, while the two other accused, EMDS executive director Bashir Suleymanli and Volunteers International Cooperation public union director Elnur Mammadov were prohibited to leave Baku until trial. On March 19, the accused faced additional charges of service forgery and appropriation of property.