I am writing to express our profound concern about the death in custody of Novruzali Mammadov, editor-in-chief of Talyshi Sado newspaper, and urge you to conduct a thorough, impartial, prompt, and transparent investigation into his death, in accordance with Azerbaijan’s international commitments. As a party to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), the government of Azerbaijan has a positive obligation to provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events leading to a detainee’s death in custody. Novruzali Mammadov, 68, died on August 17, apparently as a result of heart failure caused by a stroke. Although the results of the official forensic autopsy have not yet been made public, local civil society groups and Mammadov’s lawyer have claimed that his health had deteriorated rapidly in custody and that he was not provided with the highest possible standard of treatment as required by Azerbaijan’s ECHR obligations.
Mammadov’s health reportedly began to deteriorate after he was put in solitary onfinement in Prison No. 15 in January 2009. Although a Baku court granted Mammadov’s appeal in March 2009 to be transferred to a medical facility, the transfer took place only five months later: on July 28 Mammadov was placed in the CentralHospital of the Justice Ministry’s penitentiary system. Despite international and local calls to transfer Mammadov to a civilian hospital, he was kept in the penitentiary system as his health continued to decline. Mammadov reportedly suffered from a number of illnesses, including high blood pressure, bronchitis, neuritis, and a prostate tumor.
The Azerbaijani authorities are obliged to promptly and effectively investigate every death in custody. This obligation is based on the requirement to protect the right to life (Article 2 of the ECHR), particularly as it relates to persons in custody. Article 2 imposes a positive obligation on governments to ensure that the law adequately protects the right to life and
imposes strict requirements in relation to the investigation of deaths in custody. According to the European Court of Human Rights, where a death has occurred during custody, the burden of proof is on the authorities to provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events leading to a detainee’s death.1 Furthermore, in order for an investigation to satisfy the requirements of Article 2 of the ECHR, the investigation should be independent and impartial, and open to public scrutiny. The court has found that public scrutiny of the investigation or its results is necessary to secure accountability and the next-of-kin of the victim should be involved in the procedure to the extent necessary to safeguard his or her legitimate interest.2
A number of organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have on numerous occasions expressed concern about the arrest and conviction of Novruzali Mammadov. Mammadov was initially arrested in February 2007 on charges of resisting arrest, which local observers deemed spurious. Later he was charged with treason and convicted by the Azerbaijani Court of Grave Crimes in June 2008 to 10 years of imprisonment. International and local groups considered the charges politically motivated, particularly as the trial was closed to the public and because evidence against Mammadov was never made public. Talyshi Sado, the twice-weekly publication of Azerbaijan’s ethnic Talysh minority, closed after Mammadov’s arrest.
We hope that you will do everything in your power to ensure thorough, impartial, prompt and transparent investigation into death in custody of Novruzali Mammadov.
We thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Europe and Central Asia Division