Azerbaijan: ICJ calls for respect of lawyer’s freedom of expression in disbarment case

The ICJ today expressed concern at the disbarment proceedings against lawyer Muzaffar Bakhishov that are taking place before the Narimanov district court.

The ICJ calls for the disbarment proceedings to respect international standards on the role of lawyers and to ensure that no sanction is imposed contrary to the right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed under international law.

The ICJ understands that the proceedings against Mr Bakhishov, following a recommendation for disbarment by the Plenum of the Bar Association, are related to critical statements he made in a media interview with the news website on the functioning of the Azeri judiciary with regard to judicial review of detention.

In the interview, he criticized the arrests of large number of persons by officers of the Ministry of National Security and the tendency of judges to approve orders of detention without proper scrutiny. He further raised concerns about lack of accountability of judges for failure to protect against arbitrary detention.

Under international law and standards, lawyers, like other individuals, enjoy the right to freedom of expression, including in regard to their professional role. Protection of lawyers’ right to freedom of expression is not only important to the individuals in question. It also serves to safeguard the important public function played by lawyers in a democratic society to comment on matters related to the rule of law and the administration of justice. Lawyers must be able to carry out these and their other professional functions without interference or intimidation.

The right to freedom of expression is protected in international human rights law, including by article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Azerbaijan is party to both of these treaties.

The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers specify that lawyers “…shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights …” The European Court of Human Rights has emphasized that lawyers are entitled to comment in public on the administration of justice, provided that their criticism does not overstep certain bounds, based on principles of dignity, honour, integrity, and respect for the fair administration of justice.

The ICJ considers that disciplinary proceedings against lawyers, solely for expressing criticism of the conduct or functioning of the judiciary, whether in the course of court hearings or elsewhere, constitute an unjustified interference with freedom of expression. As the European Court of Human Rights has noted in Maurice v. France, this is particularly the case where the allegations have been presented in good faith and are substantiated by evidence.

Azerbaijan-BakhishovDisbarment-Statement-2016-AZE (download statement in Azeri)



Massimo Frigo, Legal Adviser of the ICJ Europe Programme, t: +41 22 9793805, e-mail: massimo.frigo(a)

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