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➢ Defendants Mubariz Ibrahimov, Jabir Aliyev and Ruzi Ismayilov rejected the charges as trumped-up and recanted their preliminary investigation statements as ‘obtained under duress’;
➢ Mubariz Ibrahimov: They kept me handcuffed and on my knees for 2-3 hours, did not give me water or let me perform prayer;
➢ Jabir Aliyev: They plucked out my facial hair. When someone pulls a hair off of you, tears of pain come into your eyes. They plucked my entire beard by hand and put the pile of hair in front of me;
➢ Ruzi Ismayilov: When I refused, they pulled my trousers down, talking between themselves ‘let’s play a bad trick on him and send [the video] to his WhatsApp contacts, so he is disgraced’.
On 13 March, Baku Grave Crimes Court chaired by Judge Zeynal Aghayev resumed the proceedings in the criminal case of theologian Zulfugar Mikayilov, Elman Aghayev, Faig Allahverdiyev, Mehman Guliyev, Mehman Mammadov, Eldar Bunyatov, Elkhan Hasanov, Mubariz Ibrahimov, Ali Huseynov, Ramil Seyfullayev, Ruzi Ismayilov and Jabir Aliyev.
Defendant Mubariz Ibrahimov, a resident of Ganja city, testified at the hearing and called the charges fabricated. “After performing the noon prayer at Shah Abbas mosque in Ganja on 30 November 2015, I noticed that I was being stalked. Before that, a government employee told me that a wave of arrests was going on and Ruzi Ismayilov had already been detained. He said my name was also on the blacklist and advised me to flee. I said ‘what have I done to flee?’ On 30 November, at 4 pm, I was at the gas station in my car, when someone approached me. They took me out of my car, put cuffs on my hands dragging and beating me meanwhile, threw me into another car in front of people’s eyes and drove to Ganja City Main Police Department (GCMPD). They dragged me upstairs and into a room. They kept me handcuffed and on my knees for 2-3 hours, did not give me water or let me perform prayer. They told me to confess, but I did not understand what I had to confess. They took me to the room of Rasim Gurbanov, the chief of the Organised Crime Control Division of GCMPD. I have served in the military, but it was in the Organised Crime Division that I saw a grenade and drugs for the first time. They told me to choose between them. As I refused, they beat and insulted me. Rasim Gurbanov spat water from his mouth on me. He threatened that unless I admitted they would affront me more insultingly and disseminate a video of it. I felt like in Armenian captivity. When one of them left, another would come. My friend Samir’s uncle, Ilgar Balakishiyev is a deputy police chief. He was asking which one they should impose on me. Afterwards, they took me downstairs and looked inside my car. They said ‘are those in the car yours?’ I said ‘it depends’. I knew why they were asking that. They put two booklets among religious books and elegies in a bag and then picked them up from there, alleging that they were mine. I said they were not mine and it was the first time I saw them. It was ‘Taleh Bagirzade’s appeal booklet’. They moved to the trunk. There was a small plastic bowl that I used when washing the car. They put a grenade inside it and alleged that it was mine. I said it was not mine. They were filming the process. I had two phones. They took away them both. There was a video of a Ganja resident on a call made in Nardaran. They took that video and a video of Haji Shahin’s conversations. Allegedly, Haji Shahin made a similar speech in that video. I said ‘you are so ignorant that you do not know who Haji Shahin is. Haji Shahin operates officially at the state level. How on earth could he make such a speech?’ Later, they told me that it was a misunderstanding. I also had Heydar Aliyev’s conversations on mourning for Imam Hussein in my phone. They took me back upstairs. Rasim Gurbanov was beating and threatening me, asking why I did not admit. They told me ‘do not worry, it is just a grenade and carries up to a 3-year jail sentence’. On 13 December, they brought me to the temporary detention centre. The head of the centre was Nizami. They demanded me admit the weapons. I have never had weapons. I have had no connection to terrorism. We have condemned terrorism. They asked whether I had a brother or brother-in-law. I said yes. They said ‘do not make us bring them here’. They said it was a government measure. I said ‘has the state ordered you to arrest innocent people?’ My brothers live in poverty. One of them lives in a rented apartment. To not let them suffer because of me, I signed what was demanded of me. I wish nobody will have to experience what I experienced. They warned that they would bring my father. Therefore, I was forced to sign. Rasim Gurbanov said I would be released after serving 5-6 months. All ill-treatments and insults against me were committed under Rasim Gurbanov’s guidance. They told me ‘you have found the grenade in the waste yard’. Has not the Ganja waste yard run out of drugs and grenades?
They initially brought drug possession and resistance-to-police charges, which they later withdrew ‘showing respect’, but retained 10 charges. I had never got into such a situation before. May God put them on the right path! GCMPD’s late chief Rasim Musayev would call, insult and beat us. We mourned for Imam Hussein. We got into the black list. Once, he demanded AZN 10,000 of me. I negotiated it down to AZN 500 and paid that amount so he did not touch me. If tomorrow they announce mobilisation for war in Karabakh, all believers will eagerly come forward. We have never made speeches against the state. Who would commit a coup with 4 people and 4 grenades? They said it carried a sentence of up to 3 years in jail. How were we to know that they had levelled grave charges against us? Who am I to change the Constitution? Shame on them who brought such charges against us! I do not consider myself guilty on any of the charges. They have concocted them. They have done injustice to us. I have a weak heart. I lay on the ground after being detained. They quickly gave me water, thinking I might die in their hands. There was an ethnic Armenian in the Ganja jail. They were saying ‘he has put on so much weight and has become so fairer’. This is the difference in how they looked after him and how they treated us. We have always loved our people and our state. All allegations are smear and slander. I have been engaged in trade and supported my family. The indictment is a fairy tale. It is ridiculous,” the defendant noted.
When answering questions, Ibrahimov said he performed Hajj (Muslim pilgrimage) in 2013, did not know Taleh Bagirzade and had never seen him face to face, had never been in Nardaran, and had only heard about the Muslim Union Movement after his arrest. The defendant told the court that his public defender was no different from police officers. Ibrahimov added that he had not been allowed to meet with or phone his family for months after his detention. He did not confirm any of his statements, all of which he claimed to have provided under duress.
Next, Jabir Aliyev testified. He recounted severe torture in police custody. “I am working as a barber in Ganja together with my father. They took me from the barbershop at around 5-6 pm. They brought me to GCMPD, to Rashid Piriyev’s room on the third floor. They told me to put the contents of my pockets on the table. I had money, prayer beads, and Iranian money left in my pocket since I returned from a pilgrimage. As soon as I removed them from my pocket, the officers set upon me and began beating me up without asking anything. They cuffed my hands behind my back, brought me to my knees, hit me and broke my tooth, and blood spilt on my clothes. The treated me inhumanely and tortured me until 4 am. They said a pistol had been found on me. They plucked out my facial fair. When someone pulls a hair off of you, tears of pain come into your eyes. They plucked my entire beard by hand and put the pile of hair in front of me. They said they would either write that the pistol had been found on me or in my apartment and in the latter case, they would bring my family members there. I signed whatever they wanted because of the pressures. They subjected me to horrible torture, there. I was also tortured at the temporary detention centre. And later, the court sanctioned me. They first charged me with drug abuse but then changed it to drug trafficking. I was most tortured by Rashid Piriyev. I do not consider myself guilty on any of the charges,” the defendant said.
Jabir Aliyev noted that he knew Taleh Bagirzade from his speeches placed on the internet and learned about the Muslim Union Movement after his arrest. According to the defendant, only police officers participated in his personal search and there was neither a lawyer nor attesting witnesses present. Aliyev said he had seen the lawyer only at the court hearing on the selection of the pre-trial detention measure in respect of him.
After that, Ruzi Ismayilov gave testimony. He also called the charges false. “All statements attached to the indictment bill are a lie. You, too, know that we have been unfairly arrested. The filing of grave charges is an act of oppression of us and our religion. We are the ones who are beaten, insulted, killed and yet labelled as terrorists.
Arbitrariness reigns in Ganja police. Rasim Musayev would call believers and threaten to plant drugs on them. Some of our fellow believers could not stand the harassment and threats and left the country. Azer Jabiyev could not even come to take part in his father’s funeral. During the tenure of the previous head of Ganja executive power, we were able to hold Ashura (mourning ceremony of Shia Muslims) ceremonies, but Ganja has been under blockade ever since current executive power head Elmar Valiyev took office. They have prohibited us from everything. Our honour and pride are attacked. Thank God, people do not regard us as terrorists. We are actually free. They should not think we are in prison. Freedom contributes to our evolution. Those, who have put us here, will be punished. No one can escape God’s judgment,” the defendant said. At that point, those sitting in the courtroom said salawat (an act of asking God to send blessings on Prophet Muhammad). The salawat was repeated for several times, with the judge warning against that each time. The judge announced a break in the hearing and demanded that those watching the proceedings be removed. It led to an argument between the people and the bailiffs. After the people were removed, the judge returned to the courtroom. The judge put the blame for their removal on Ismayilov and asked him to speak on the charges.
After the break, Ruzi Ismayilov spoke about his arrest. “In November 2015, I saw two cars in front of my house when returning home from the mosque. A man got out of the car and introduced himself as Rasim Gurbanov. They tied up my arms, put a bag over my head and forced me into a car, laying me on the lap of two people. Rasim Gurbanov started to punch me and put drugs and a grenade into my pocket. They took me out of the car in front of GCMPD and kicked me to the ground. They took me to the second floor beating me along the way. They stretched me on the floor on my back, beat me and demanded that I sign the statement that allegedly a grenade and drugs had been found on me and allegedly I had hit a policeman by name Oktay Orujov under his eye with the grenade. I had neither seen him nor heard his name. I only saw his name in the indictment bill. They said ‘unless you sign, we will pull certain things out of your apartment and put pressure on your family members. Consider your elderly mother’. When I refused, they pulled my trousers down, talking between themselves ‘let’s play a bad trick on him and send [the video] to his WhatsApp contacts, so he is disgraced’. They said ‘he is a clergyman and would not want his name to come into disrepute. Maybe, this way he will sign’. I unwillingly signed the papers, the content of which I did not know or understand. They wrote that allegedly I had found the grenade in a WC on the way to the shop near the bridge to buy a smoothing-iron, whereas I would not go to a public toilet when I am close to home and we already have a smoothing-iron at home. After much beating, they brought me to the temporary detention centre at 2 o’clock at night. When investigator Tural Humbatzade was taking my statement, Rasim Gurbanov responded to all questions. Nizami said ‘do not say anything about the signs of torture, or your charges will be toughened’. There were bruises left by torture on my legs. I fell for their sincerely sounding words and did not speak about it. I was also subjected to torture in pre-trial detention centre #2 in Ganja. They did not allow me to meet with my family or talk to them on the phone for 4 months. I was only able to talk to them in March. After being transferred to Baku Detention Centre, I hired a lawyer. The lawyer by name Jafar, who was assigned to me at the state expense, kept telling me ‘there is nothing serious, just sign it’. All of the charges are trumped-up,” the defendant said.
In response to the questions, Ismayilov said he had known Bagirzade during his studies in Iranian city Gum and had exchanged greetings with him only once. Ismayilov added that he had studied in Gum between 2005 and 2012 and met Bagirzade at the time of his graduation and departure in 2005. As for the reasons for his arrest, the defendant said the following: ‘I myself would also like to know why I have been arrested. Perhaps, it is because of my faith in one God that I see myself here. I believed everyone’s sincerity and humanist calls’.
“So you say, but you stirred a discord in no time. You caused bad blood between us and the people and had us cursed by the people,” the judge remarked and then congratulated the defendants on the upcoming Nowruz (spring) holiday.
The next hearing was set for 27 March, 10.30 am.
Background: Z. Mikayilov and others are charged under Articles 214.2.1 (terrorism, committed on preliminary arrangement by a group of persons, by an organised group or a criminal community (criminal organisation)), 214.2.3 (terrorism, committed with use of fire-arms or objects used as a weapon), 214-2 (open calls for terrorist acts), 220.2 (making calls for active insubordination to lawful requirements of representatives of authority and for mass disorders, as well as for violence against citizens), 228.4 (illegal acquisition, selling or carrying of a gas weapon, cold steel, as well as a throwing weapon by an organised group, except for places where carrying of a cold steel is an accessory of a national suit or is connected to hunting), 278 (actions aimed at violent seizure or retention of power in infringement of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, as well as aimed at violent change of the constitutional grounds of the state), 279.1 (creation of armed formations or groups, which are not provided for by the legislation of the Azerbaijan Republic, participation in their creation and activity, and supplying them with weapons, ammunition, explosives, military engineering or military equipment), 281.2 (public appeals directed against the state, committed repeatedly or by a group of people), and 283.2.3 (instigation of national, racial, social or religious hatred and hostility, by an organised group) of the Criminal Code.
Muslim Union Movement chairman Taleh Bagirzade was arrested in an operation conducted in Nardaran on 26 November 2015. Under Baku Grave Crimes Court’s verdict of 25 January 2017, Taleh Bagirzade and his 17 co-defendants were sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison. T. Bagirzade’s deputy Elchin Gasimov and his 11 co-defendants’ case is also currently pending before the court.