BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
All members of the European Council had agreed to comply with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. However, Azerbaijan has violated that commitment ever since 2014, according to the unanimous ruling of ECHR’s Grand Chamber of 17 judges, including the judge representing Azerbaijan, on May 29.
The case involves Azerbaijan’s imprisonment of political activist Ilgar Mammadov, who was charged with criminal offenses and placed “in pre-trial detention in 2013 without there being any reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offense. [The European] Court considered the circumstances indicated the actual purpose of those measures was to silence or punish Mammadov for criticizing the Government [of Azerbaijan],” according to a press release by ECHR.
ECHR “found in particular that the Government [of Azerbaijan] had taken only limited steps to implement the judgment, which had not amounted to Azerbaijan acting in ‘good faith’ or in a manner which was in accordance with the ‘conclusions and spirit’ of its ruling in Mammadov’s case. It concluded that Azerbaijan had failed to fulfill its obligation under the Convention to abide by the judgment,” according to ECHR’s press release.
On December 5, 2017, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which is responsible for supervising the enforcement of the ECHR’s judgments, referred Azerbaijan’s violation back to European Court to determine whether that country had failed to abide by its 2014 judgment by not releasing Mammadov unconditionally.
After ECHR’s Grand Chamber ruled, on May 29, that Azerbaijan had indeed violated its 2014 judgment, ECHR referred the case back to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for consideration of further measures to be taken.
The Committee of Ministers stressed that there were fundamental flaws in the criminal proceedings against Mammadov and “called many times for Azerbaijan to release Mammadov as an essential step towards redressing the violations the [European] Court had found. However, he remained in detention for almost four years after the ECHR’s judgment had become final on 13 October 2014, until his conditional release on 13 August 2018, following the initiation of the infringement proceedings. In March 2019 [Azerbaijan’s] Supreme Court, after reducing his sentence, found he had served his time in full and set aside the probation order and other conditions on his release,” according to ECHR’s Grand Chamber.
Here is the background of Mammadov’s case as described by ECHR’s press release: He was born in 1970 and lives in Baku. He is a political blogger and activist who had also announced his intention to run as president of Azerbaijan in 2013. He was placed in pre-trial detention in February 2013 after writing on his blog about disturbances in Ismayilli. Mammadov said, among other things, that people there had been reacting to the “corruption and insolence” of public officials. He was subsequently charged with organizing or actively participating in actions causing a breach of public order, and later he was accused of stirring mass disorder and resistance to or violence against public officials, posing a threat to their life or health.
Mammadov applied to ECHR on February 25, 2013, alleging that he had been arrested and detained without a “reasonable suspicion” of a criminal offence; that his right to be presumed innocent had been breached; and that he had been prosecuted for his political views and the threat he had presented to the regime as a potential presidential candidate. In March 2014, Azerbaijan’s court convicted and sentenced him to seven years in prison.
In the Grand Chamber’s judgment of May 22, 2014—the first Mammadov judgment—ECHR found violations of his right to liberty and security, right to judicial review of detention, presumption of innocence, and limitation on use of restrictions on rights. The ECHR also ordered the government of Azerbaijan to pay him 20,000 euros in compensation.
The Committee of Ministers first examined the case in December 2014. It took numerous decisions and interim resolutions, highlighting the State’s obligation under the Convention to adopt individual measures to put an end to any violations that had been established and to erase their consequences so as to put Mammadov in the position he would have been in if his rights had not been violated.
In October 2017, the Committee put Azerbaijan on formal notice that, in its view, it had failed to fulfill its obligation under the Convention, the first step in an infringement procedure. The Committee of Ministers in December 2017 also referred a question to ECHR on Azerbaijan’s fulfillment of its obligation.
Mammadov was freed on probation in August 2018. In March 2019, Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court reduced his sentence, found he had served his time in full and set aside the conditions on his release. In November 2017, ECHR found that Mammadov’s trial on the same criminal charges as those criticized in its 2014 judgment had also violated his rights (the second Mammadov judgment).
If Azerbaijan continues not to comply with ECHR’s judgments, it may eventually be expelled from the Council of Europe.