The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has called on the Azerbaijan authorities to release lawyer Elchin Sadigov and journalist Avaz Zeynally whose arrest on 10 September on charges of bribery is likely to be politically motivated. On 11 September, Binagadi Regional Court of Baku ordered their pre-trial detention for a period of four months. Both have denied the charges against them.
Sadigov has announced he has begun a hunger strike to protest against his arrest and detention.
“The ICJ is concerned that the arrests, charges and detention of the two independent professionals may be exclusively in retaliation for their legitimate professional activities and, therefore, arbitrary, in violation of their human rights, including, in particular, their right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention”, said Temur Shakirov, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser for Europe and Central Asia.
“It appears likely that their arrests and detention are yet another example of the systematic suppression of human rights defenders, such as lawyers and journalists, in Azerbaijan. Echlin Sadigov, in particular, has already faced harassment for his independent, principled and courageous legal work in defence of human rights”, said Temur Shakirov.
Prior to arrest, Sadigov had been acting as defence lawyer for Rasim Mammadov, the former director of a local steel factory, currently on trial on allegations of embezzlement. On September 7, the Haqqin news agency published a web story about Avaz Zeynally, the editor of the “Khural” website, alleging that he had extorted 20,000 manats (approximately 11800 USD) from the family of Rasim Mammadov promising to stop negative coverage of the case in exchange for the money. Sadigov was alleged to be an intermediary in this deal. The web story included an audio message from Zeynally to Sadigov where he offered to “return” an unstated object if Sadigov felt uncomfortable. The news agency alleged that “the object to be returned” was the money that Zeynally had “extorted”.
On 10 September, the Prosecutor’s Office searched Elchin Sadigov’s office and apartment, and seized confidential documents related to a legal case from his office and home. Law enforcement officials reportedly obtained judicial approval of the search warrant without informing the court of Sadigov’s status as a member of the Bar Association. On the same day, Sadigov was taken to the Prosecutor’s Office for interrogation, and was eventually charged with assistance in taking a bribe under Articles 311.3.3 and 32.5 of the Criminal Code. Also on 10 September, Zeynally was detained and charged with “bribery on a large scale” under Article 311.3.3 of the Criminal Code.
The ICJ is concerned that the search by the Prosecutor’s Office of Elchin Sadigov’s home and office on 10 September, which led to the seizure of documents, was conducted apparently in violation of legal professional privilege. The ICJ recalls that the confidentiality of lawyer-client communications and lawyers’ files are protected under international human rights law as part of the right to a fair trial. Moreover, breaches of lawyer-client communications, such as through inspections and seizures of lawyers’ files and documents, would generally violate the prohibition of arbitrary interference with correspondence, privacy and home.
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers specifically affirm that, “governments shall recognize and respect that all communications and consultations between lawyers and their clients within their professional relationship are confidential” (Principle 22). The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers has affirmed that in order to guarantee the confidential nature of the lawyer-client relationship, “Lawyers’ files and documents should be protected from seizure or inspection by law and in practice” (UN Doc A/64/181 (2009), para 110(b)).
The ICJ calls on the Azerbaijan authorities to release Elchin Sadigov and Avaz Zeynally, and to ensure that they comply with Azerbaijan’s international human rights law obligations to respect Elchin
Sadigov’s and Avaz Zeynally’s human rights, in particular, their right to a fair trial, including the opportunity to defend themselves of the criminal charges brought against them.
The European Court of Human Rights has previously found that there is a “troubling pattern” of arbitrary arrest and detention of government critics, civil society activists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. (Aliyev v Azerbaijan, Application No. 68762/14, para. 223).
In 2019, the ICJ published recommendations to the Azerbaijan Bar Association on the role and independence of Lawyers.
In 2016, the ICJ published a mission report Defenceless Defenders: Systemic Problems in the Legal Profession of Azerbaijan.NewsPress releases