Dear colleagues and representatives of diplomatic corps and international organizations!
The reason that made me to appeal to you with an urgent open letter is the terrible facts I witnessed in the court trial on the trumped up charges brought up against Vidadi Isgandarov, a human rights defender operating in Azerbaijan.
I’d like to inform you that Isgandarov was detained during the rally in Sahil Park, Baku, held by opposition Public Chamber group on April 17, 2011, and sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention. A criminal case was launched against him on May 2, 2011, on false charges, and he was sentenced to 2-month pre-trial detention. He is charged with Articles 159.3 (impending in implementation of voting right) and 160.1 (interfering or affecting the activities of election commissions) of the criminal code. Isgandarov, who is suffering from hypertension, diabetes, heart failure and kidney failure is held in Ganja isolation prison under unbearable conditions (not only ill persons, even the healthy ones could not live under such abject conditions). He is temporarily transferred to the isolation prison in Goychay region during the court trials. It should also be noted that Isgandarov faces provocation in the prison and his life is endangered.
I should note that I failed to attend the preceding three trials, but was able to attend the 4th one on July 26th, 2011. In the hearing, I witnessed that the trial of the human rights defender was punctuated with gross legal violations.
Specifically, when you arrive in front of the court building, you have such an impression that as if it is the trial of a terrorist or grave criminal. The building is surrounded by police, guards, and employees of executive administration of the district. Besides, the persons willing to attend the trial of the rights defenders are rudely searched, their phones, bags, voice recorders and all other electronic equipments are seized, when it has not been forbidden to bring in video and audio equipments. The only condition is that photographing and filming can be implemented after obtaining the judge’s approval. It could be possible to demand the observers to switch off or silence their phones with the view to ensure the stability of the court hearing. I’d also like to note that the wallets of the persons willing to attend the court hearing were checked. Even the rights defender Isgandarov’s lawyer Khalid Bagirov was illegally searched. The people were treated rudely by the plain clothed agents, guards, police and the employees of the executive administration of the district and again were rudely searched. When I asked what law they were basing their treatment of us in this manner, they shouted and ordered us to give them whatever we had on us. I’d also like to note that this arbitrary process is led by the Deputy Chief of Goychay regional Police Office and other high ranking officials. I paid a visit to the region together with 2 more representatives of our organization to attend the court hearing. We faced physical harassment, ill treatment from the police and plain clothed agents during the trial. My observation allows me to say that the trial of the rights defender is accompanied by unprecedented fraud. The court charges Vidadi Isgandarov with allegedly violating the election rules in Goychay in 2010 parliamentary elections; injuring the members of election commission; and impending in implementation of voting right of so-called victims. It is no secret for local and international organizations that there have been no free and fair elections in Azerbaijan within the past 15 years and all elections have been accompanied by gross fraud, which isled by the ruling regime. Human rights defender Vidadi Isgandarov unveiled gross fraud facts in elections to Azerbaijani Parliament in 2010 and submitted them to the General Prosecutor’s Office, which did not investigate these facts. His further human rights activities and more fraud facts unveiled made him an enemy of the Goychay Regional Executive Administration, General Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It should also be noted that the persons involved in the said election fraud are used as witnesses against Isgandarov in the trial on the mentioned charges. Moreover, some of the witnesses questioned against the rights defender had mental disabilities and they were questioned under the Judge’s guidance. The fraud is so big that the doctor said that the person was earlier disabled but could now testify. The Judge turned a blind eye to this absurd measure. The testimonies made by the so-called victims and witnesses made the situation of prosecuting side more of an embarrassment. However, the practices in the politically motivated case in Azerbaijan make it clear that at the end, the public prosecutor will use these false testimonies and demand a sentence for the rights defender.
One of the points that disappointed me in the trial of Vidadi Isgandarov was the absence of his colleagues, diplomatic corps and international organizations’ representatives in the trial. Naturally, I understand that it is not that easy to make a 4-hour car travel in this hot weather to a region 216 km away from Baku. However, because the rights defenders were not in attendance, Isgandarov has to fight the legal violations in the trial on his own. If we, rights defenders, do not provide professional and psychological support by observing the trial of our colleague, how will we be able to protect the rights of others?
I believe that the human rights organizations and rights defenders should at least once (later their representatives could attend) attend the trial of human rights defender and support him, as it is their both moral and professional duty.
I’d also like to note that it was only a representative of US embassy to Azerbaijan that showed up in the first trial. No representative of international organizations or the embassies of EU members to Azerbaijan attended in the second, third, fourth and fifth court hearings.
Dear representative of diplomatic corps and international bodies! Up to now, your observation of political developments in Baku has been of great importance. At least, thanks to you, the world community saw how the ruling regime arranges set up court proceedings based on trumped up charges against its opponents. It is also an undeniable fact that the number of legal violations goes down in the hearings where you are in attendance. However, I suppose that more attention is paid to the proceedings held in Baku and the regions around Baku; the international organizations’ attendance in the processes outside the capital city is rare. However, we have been witnessing that the Azerbaijani governments have transferred the court trials of opponents to the regions. The reason is that it is difficult to monitor the process and legal violations in such places. For instance, the trialsof Shahin Hasanli is held in Shamkir region, Bakhtiyar Hajili – in Ganja and Vidadi Isgandarov – in Goychay. It’s only youth activist Jabbar Savalanli’s trial that is observed by diplomatic corps representatives, because it is held in Sumgayit, a neighboring city to Baku.
I’d like to note that the EU Guidelines for Human Rights Defenders adopted in 2008 says that the diplomatic corps representatives of EU member states should support and defend the human rights defenders.
I believe that we all should support the human rights defender by visiting and monitoring the court together and, thus, we would be able to prevent more legal violations. Besides, rights defenders and leaders of human rights organizations or their representatives could attend the court proceedings in turns.
I am calling upon the representatives of international organizations, particularly of UN (9 December 1998 Declaration about Human Rights Defenders), OSCE, Council of Europe and European Union Member States to send their representatives to the court trials of the human rights defender.
I am also expressing my gratitude to several international human rights organizations for paying attention to this issue and informing the international community about it. As they are technically unable to send their representative to the court trial, the local human rights organizations should monitor the court proceedings with the intent to provide comprehensive information for those international bodies and thus support their colleagues.
Chairman of the “Institute for Reporters’
Freedom and Safety” Public Union