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> Mehman Huseynov: Freedom of speech costs too much in Azerbaijan;
> Elchin Sadigov: If Mehman’s health worsened after being brought to the police office, then it is the state’s duty to prove this fact of torture;
> Shahla Humbatova: Another reason for the reprisals against Mehman is the fact that he is the chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS).
On 11 April, Baku Court of Appeal held a hearing on the appeal filed against Surakhani District Court’s judgment on blogger Mehman Huseynov. The hearing chaired by Judge Vagif Mursagulov was attended by media representatives, socio-political figures, and representatives of civil society, international organisations and diplomatic corps. Mehman Huseynov’s presence in the hearing was ensured. His rights were defended by lawyers Elchin Sadigov, Fuad Agayev and Shahla Humbatova. Lawyer Alirza Habilov participated as the representative of the party that has brought the private prosecution.
The judge declared that the objection filed by the defence at the previous hearing against the jury composition had been considered by the chairperson of Baku Court of Appeal and denied as groundless. The proceedings continued with the same jury on the bench.
Making a speech, lawyer Elchin Sadigov said the private prosecution complaint filed with the court had not been drawn up in compliance with the requirements of the procedural legislation. “According to the legislation, the filer of the private prosecution must necessarily participate in the preliminary hearing, but Musa Musayev did not attend. The principle of jurisdiction has also been violated. The opposite party alleges that since Azadliq.info and Meydan TV websites, which have published Mehman’s speech, are based outside the country, they have appealed to Surakhani District Court in accordance with Mehman’s registered residence address. However, they themselves have mentioned it in 7 different parts of the complaint that the speech that has led to the complaint was made in front of Nasimi District Court. In that case, the complaint should have also been filed with that district court. Obviously, the principle of jurisdiction has been violated, and it is a ground to revoke the judgment. Aside from that, the court has considered the case through gross procedural violations. The preliminary hearing decision and relevant documents have not been served upon me or Mehman Huseynov yet. The adversarial principle was also violated during the trial. We were not given the opportunity to cross-examine the filer of the private prosecution. Musa Musayev was not even invited to court. Nor we were given time or enabled to prepare the defence speech. The judgment was passed within a short time and in a hurry,” Sadigov noted.
Elchin Sadigov remarked that if Mehman’s health had been normal until his detention by the police and had only worsened after being brought to the police office, then it is the state’s duty to prove this fact of torture.
The lawyer stressed that the police chief was not entitled to bring a private prosecution in the present case. “Libel is a direct crime committed with the purpose of smearing the honour and dignity of another person. Mehman Huseynov did not mention Musa Musayev’s name a single time during his speech. He only noted that he had been subjected to ill-treatment by the police. This in no way humiliates Musa Musayev’s honour and dignity as an individual,” he said.
The lawyer added that this kind of a measure had never been taken against anyone before for revealing the treatment towards them in the police custody. “If the judgment is upheld, it will only add to cases of torture by the police. This judgment has been delivered not to protect the reputation of the police, but solely to punish Mehman. Therefore, I request his acquittal,” Sadigov noted.
Lawyer Shahla Humbatova said her colleagues Fuad Agayev and Elchin Sadigov had provided enough information on the legal aspects of the matter. “For that reason, I want to focus on other aspects of the issue. Who is Mehman Huseynov and why has he been arrested? Few people can be found in Azerbaijan who does not know Mehman. His personal profile on Facebook has more than 100,000 followers. He has another 350,000 followers on Sancaq Production page, which he moderates. In his capacity as a journalist, blogger and human rights defender he prepared journalistic stories on illegalities taking place in the country, acts of corruption, luxurious properties of ministers and other officials, etc. and posted
them on social networking websites. The purpose of arresting Mehman was to prevent exactly this. The process [leading up to his arrest] started in 2012. He has been under constant pressure and harassment,” the lawyer noted.
The lawyer stressed Mehman Huseynov’s chairmanship of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) was another reason for his punishment. “This is quite a well-known human rights organisation in Azerbaijan. IRFS’ founder and former chairman Emin Huseynov took refuge in the Swiss embassy in Azerbaijan, where he stayed for 10 months, as a result of persecutions in 2014. He was eventually forced to leave the country in 2015. He has even been deprived of his Azerbaijani citizenship in violation of the legislation. Rasim Aliyev, who replaced him as the chairman of IRFS, was beaten to death in August 2015. After that, Mehman Huseynov was elected the chairman of IRFS, and, as you see, he is behind bars. So, we should keep in mind that Mehman Huseynov’s role in this capacity was also a factor for his arrest. In particular, IRFS, the organisation headed by Mehman Huseynov, has been one of those who initiated the idea to inform the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of a EUR 2.4 million bribe given to Italian PACE member Luka Volonte by the Azerbaijani government in 2016. In its aftermath, he faced pressure and provocations on 4 consecutive occasions,” the lawyer added.
Humbatova further noted that the allegations that Mehman Huseynov had slandered the police with prejudice were not true, either. “Mehman repeatedly appealed to ASAN Service to get a [renewed] identity card, but each time he was detained and taken to the police office and released after a while. He did not make a statement on subjection to pressure or torture on any of those occasions. In the case of his latest detention, everyone, who watched him speak in front of the court, saw in what condition he was. You simply need to show that video to a psychologist to learn in what state Mehman, a psychologically healthy and inherently calm person, was. A psychologist might give an opinion on his subjection to torture. However, without investigating the issue, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) immediately made a statement that Mehman Huseynov was prejudiced and was telling a lie. And law enforcement agencies acted exclusively based on the MIA’s statement and consequently Mehman was arrested,” the lawyer noted.
In Humbatova’s view, the lower court has not investigated the issue at all. “All the motions were unjustifiably rejected. The collection of evidence and interrogation of witnesses were not carried out. The court failed to summon not only the witnesses who gave a statement in his favour but even the witnesses who gave statements against him. Until the issuance of the judgment against him, the restrictive measure of ‘not to go elsewhere’ was chosen in respect of him. He was not allowed to leave the court at the time when the court went to the deliberation room. This goes to show that the judges knew what kind of a judgment it was going to be before they went to the deliberation room. Therefore, they saw no need to conduct any investigation. Had it been investigated, Mehman’s innocence would have been revealed. The purpose was to punish him and to prevent the ‘needless information’ that he disseminated as a blogger. In this light, I ask the court to acquit Mehman Huseynov,” the lawyer said.
Next, Mehman Huseynov took the floor.
“Yesterday, the judges made the ‘right’ decision to consider the appeal without judicial investigation, because had there been an investigation, my innocence would come to light. But I know I am innocent. You did not conduct an investigation, but I am going to do my own investigation with my speech and prove my innocence. In recent years, the tactics of the police are to force people to call white black. Whoever does not say this, they torture and break him. But I am not that kind of a citizen. I have been engaged in journalism for 8 years. When starting this work, I was aware of the troubles and pressures associated with it, and that it was going to cost me dearly because freedom of speech has a very high price in Azerbaijan. If you do a search on the internet, you will come across hundreds of articles that read ‘Mehman was abducted’, ‘Mehman has been released’. It was the second time that Nasimi district police kidnapped me. When they abducted me for the first time, I went right in front of the police office and said the police had kidnapped me and taken to the police office. You can find it on many websites. Why did they not come forward and say they had not kidnapped me back then? I was even given a father’s slap in the police office. I have never spoken about it anywhere. I thought to myself ‘it is not a big deal that they slapped me’.
On 12 or 13 September 2016, officers of Baku City Main Police Department once again kidnapped me on Mammad Araz Street. A deputy chief of the criminal search section made derogatory remarks against me and warned me not to disseminate negative information about the police. He also told me not to tell anyone anything about it. My lawyer wanted to file a complaint about that, but I insisted that he do not. I mean, I do not have any prejudice against the police to slander them. I said what had happened to me. I do not even know Musa Musayev, who has sued me in the manner of private prosecution that has led to my arrest,” Mehman Huseynov said.
Mehman Huseynov added that there was a provocation attempt against him in December 2016 as well. “On my way to the barbershop, I noticed a policeman stalking me. As I already knew him, I guessed there would be some provocation. While in the barbershop, I saw him through the mirror walk back and forth in the street. I told the barbers ‘Look after me when I leave, and see if anything happens’. They said ‘do not worry. There is a camera here. We will give the recordings in case something happens’. When I left the barbershop, a bearded man looking like a bandit shouldered me and grabbed my arm. He tried to provoke me, but I ignored him and ran away. I have a good potential for running. I later learned that the purpose was to arrest me. They tried to sentence me to several days in jail and make me spend the New Year holiday behind bars. After that, I did not leave home for a couple of days. There are quite a lot of policemen who respect me as well. On 5 January, a police officer, who is friends with one of my acquaintances, sent word to me that a provocation was being schemed against me and advised me not to walk alone. And, so I did. On 9 January, I had four people by my side. When leaving home, I saw them track us in a car. I told my friends to not be worried. At around 7 pm in the evening, I parted from my friends, as I had to meet with another acquaintance of mine. I called him and even texted him. At that moment, I saw the police officer who had had a conversation with me in Baku City Main Police Department. I knew there was going to be a provocation. As I tried to run away, 7-8 plainclothesmen approached me and put a bag over my head. They gave an electric shock to my leg that suffers from a vascular problem and pinned me to the ground. As I cried for help, 30-40 people gathered there. It happened right before their eyes. After driving me around the city in a car for a while, they brought me to one place. But they did not remove the bag from my head. They were keeping me with a sack over my head, my mouth covered and my head pressed down both along the way and in the place where they took me. In the police office, even one of them lay over me adding to my agony. They were filming me in an offensive form and laughing. Then they removed the sack from my head. Finding out that I was in Nasimi District Police Department, as I had been there before, I fainted. They splashed water on my face and woke me up. I had a spasm in my leg which has a swollen vessel and had been electrocuted by them. Now the representative of the private prosecution filer alleges that the police had called an ambulance for me by demonstrating humanity. But in fact, they saw I was going to die and therefore called a doctor. I have been suffering from a swollen vein for a few years now. I am unable to undergo surgery due to my lack of an identity card. Hospitals refuse to admit me. I even asked the police to give me an identity card for one day and even send an officer to accompany me while I was operated on and then take away the identity card. But they did not agree,” Huseynov said.
Mehman Huseynov pulled his trousers down and showed the swollen vein on his leg to the judges, who said there was no need for that.
Mehman continued with his speech. “The first aid physician told the police that I needed to go to the hospital. They objected and told the doctor to give me an injection as I had to stay there till the morning. They gave me an injection unknown to me. In that unconscious condition, they had me sign some documents. In the morning, they took me to the court in a post patrol service car. The policemen accompanying me said ‘Mehman we know and follow you. Why have you been arrested?’ I said ‘If you do not know, nor do I’. My friends had brought me a dish which I shared with them. Then the proceedings started. They alleged that I had fought a person by name Tahmazov. When he was brought, I recognised him. He was the person who tried to provoke me on 26 December 2016. He cannot even be called a person. He framed me, alleging that we were fighting when the police detained us and took us away. I also recognised the persons brought as attesting witnesses. Being a reporter, I have a strong visual memory. I had seen them drag people [along the ground] during an opposition rally. I said this to them. They said ‘Yes, we were there, but as oppositionists, not as police officers’. Then they invited the policemen who had allegedly taken us away after we had fought. The officers, who had just been with me and with whom I had shared my food, said ‘Yes, we took [them] to the police office’. Everyone saw how
fabricated this case was. The judge also knew I had been framed. They might be planning to sentence me to 30 days, but the judge saw how trumped-up this case was and released me with a fine of AZN 200. After leaving [the court], I spoke this all to the media representatives,” Mehman noted.
Mehman Huseynov stressed that he would agree to not only the 2-year but even a 200-year jail sentence if they could put forward a single footage of him fighting, being taken away in a post patrol service car, and entering the police office together with Tahmazov. “If they had such a video, they would have posted that on Youtube and said ‘Look, what kind of a rascal Mehman is. He is slandering us’. But nothing of the sort has happened. Everything is fabricated and false. What can we do if the police do not give the recordings? The only solution I can think of is that, after getting out of jail, I will buy a small camera and, pardon my French, attach it to my backside, so it films everywhere and they cannot frame us,” the blogger said.
Mehman: Even if I ask the court to acquit me, you will come and say you have upheld the two-year sentence. I know you receive a call…
Judge: We do not receive a call…
Mehman: Then how do they give their instruction? Even if you uphold the decision, tell those callers that Mehman is innocent!
At the end of his speech, Mehman Huseynov said [former] General of the Ministry of National Security Akif Chovdarov, who had once oppressed people, was now himself being oppressed.
The judge told the blogger that the mentioned case had nothing to do with the case at hand.
Lawyer Fuad Agayev said the inhuman treatment against Mehman Huseynov actually started in 2012. “The fact that he is not issued an identity card and is [therefore] unable to undergo surgery is per se torture. Mehman Huseynov’s case has been accompanied by both procedural and substantive law violations. The evidence proving Mehman’s innocence is in the hands of the private prosecution party himself, the police,” the lawyer said and asked the court to render a fair decision.
Alirza Habilov, the representative of the private prosecution filer, called the appeal unfounded and requested that it be rejected.
The court broke for deliberation. The decision will be announced at the hearing held on 12 April, 10 am.