Once again an Azerbaijani citizen is imprisoned for having criticised the authorities


Nurlan Qahramanli

Analysis of violation of law during Nurlan Qahramanli’s judicial proceedings

Baku City Yasamal District Court

Case № 3(004)-4978/2023

21 September 2023

Presiding judge: Huseyn Safarov

The person against whom an administrative record was issued: Nurlan Qahramanli

Defendant: Nurlan Qahramanli

Defender: Elchin Sadiqov

Nurlan Qahramanli (nicknamed Libre), a well-known blogger, reporter and journalist in Azerbaijan, has been repeatedly detained and subjected to administrative arrest. While in custody, he has been repeatedly beaten and mistreated in the police stations.

In 2020, when the armed clashes between Azerbaijanis and Armenians resumed in Nagorno-Karabakh, some residents of the country supported the military action, while the others condemned it. The blogger was among the latter. N. Qahramanli also demonstrated his anti-war position in the course of the uprisings in Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023.

On 21 September 2023, Nurlan Qahramanli wrote a post in an ironic form on his Facebook page expressing his negative attitude towards the military actions in Nagorno-Karabakh. That post was the reason for administrative charges against him.

The General Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan launched an administrative case against the blogger. The Prosecutor’s Office stated that N. Qahramanli had misinterpreted the anti-terrorist operation in Nagorno-Karabakh and doubted the territorial integrity of the country. Thus, the journalist committed an offence under the Article 388-1.1.1 “Publication of the prohibited information on the Internet resource or telecommunication network, as well as failure to prevent the placement of such an information” of the Administrative Offences Code of the Azerbaijan Republic.

N. Qahramanli, interrogated in the course of the trial, testified that he had found out about anti-terrorist activities on the territory of the Azerbaijan Republic from publications in the press on 19 September 2023. He had also been aware that the Azerbaijani Ministries of Internal Affairs and Defence had banned certain publications regarding the anti-terrorist activities. N. Qahramanli claimed that he had not questioned the country’s territorial integrity and constitutional order. He does not regret what he has done and believes that his actions do not violate any law.

His post published on Facebook is of an ironic nature but it is not aimed at any particular category of citizens. The journalist supports the peaceful conflict resolution and always stands against the war. N. Qahramanli also stated that his Facebook post had not caused any concern to any citizen and there had been no complaint regarding it. He was summoned and questioned about the mentioned post by the State Security Service of Azerbaijan, where he was told that what he had done was not a criminal but he was warned not to make any more similar publications.

Bakhtiyar Mirzoyev, an acting prosecutor of the Department of Affairs beyond Criminal Prosecution of the Azerbaijani General Prosecutor’s Office who was questioned during the trial, testified that Nurlan Qahramanli had committed a deed that infringed the Article 20.1. of the Law of the Azerbaijan Republic “On National Security”. The prosecutor requested the Court to impose punishment on N. Qahramanli in connection with committing an administrative offence under the Article 388-1.1.1 of the Administrative Offences Code of the Azerbaijan Republic.

The Court did not find circumstances excluding the administrative liability in the case.

On 21 September 2023, the Baku City Yasamal District Court issued a ruling: to find Qiyas Ibrahimov guilty on the charges and sentence him to 30 days of administrative arrest.

Commentary by expert lawyer:
The court verdict is unlawful and unjustified.
According to the charge, Nurlan Qahramanli enabled the information distribution prohibited by the Law of the Azerbaijan Republic “On Information, Computerisation and Protection of Information”, in particularly mentioned in the Article 13-2.3.1. of the Law. This Article prohibits the distribution of information that is forbidden by the Law. In the particular case, the journalist posted on his Facebook nothing else but an ironic attitude to the ongoing actions, which was evident from the comments and responses to those comments under the above-mentioned post. It was an expression of his thoughts, and convictions in an ironical manner.

The charges against N. Qahramanli are at least somewhat frivolous, as the judgement itself does not refer to any information prohibited by the Law, and even if it did, it does not specify what category the information fits into and what threat it poses to the country. In addition, there is no expert opinion about the post publication in the judgement. The post did not contain any information, it was the author’s personal view, his ideas and convictions.

It should be noted that it is not unusual for such charges to be brought against non-governmental and political activists and journalists in the course of such events. For example, in June 2023, during a rally in the village of the Azerbaijani Gadabay district, a civil activist and former political prisoner, Qiyas Ibrahimov, was arrested for 32 days on the same charge. He was accused of spreading the information prohibited by the Law, although in his case it was the spread of his opinion, which was not favoured by the authorities. Moreover, the authorities blocked or restricted the access to many information sources.

The accusation regarding the distribution of prohibited information and the long-term detention of N. Qahramanli are of an illegitimate nature and are intended to frighten those who try to express their opinion in public. It is a clear violation of the Right to Freedom of Expression.

The Right to Freedom of Expression is enshrined in both National and International laws. According to the Article 47 of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic,
1. Everyone may enjoy freedom of thought and speech.
2. Nobody should be forced to promulgate his/her thoughts and convictions or to renounce his/her thoughts and convictions.
Freedom of opinion and expression is also guaranteed by the Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This Right is one of the pillars established in a democratic society.

The European Convention contains a list of restrictions, Article 10(2). This list is sufficiently definite. Thus, in the paragraph 2, it is stipulated that Freedom of Expression may be restricted in cases if it is:

• The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Н. Qahramanli did not spread any information by virtue of his activity. Besides, it did not cause any threat to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. He testified at the trial that he had not put the integrity of the country under doubt and had no such an intention and, accordingly, no statements that would prove it.

In this case, there was the State interference in in the case of N. Qahramanli, his freedom of expression; this interference was not legitimate as it was undertaken with other objectives and beyond the Law.

The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of the Sunday Times v. the United Kingdom dated 26 November 1991 said,

“Freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Convention, Article 10, is subject to a number of exceptions which, however, must be understood in a narrow sense and the necessity for any limitation of which must be established with certainty” – https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/#{%22fulltext%22:[%22Sunday%20Times%20v.%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22GRANDCHAMBER%22,%22CHAMBER%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-57708%22]}

The judgment of the ECHR in the case of Bladet Tromso and Stensaas v. France from 20 May 1999, says,

“Although the press must not exceed certain limits, in particular when it comes to the reputation and rights of others and necessity to prevent the disclosure of confidential information, it must nevertheless fulfil its functions and must be responsible in imparting the information and ideas on any matter of public interest. Moreover, the Court is convinced that freedom of journalism also implies the engagement of expressions which are to some extent exaggerated and even provocative”. – https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-58369%22]}

This judgement also applies to the case of N. Qahramanli. The blogger -journalist expressed his opinion on the current events of public interest in his usual ironic manner, not violating the law through spreading any prohibited information.

In the ECHR judgment in the case of Fressoz and Roire v. France dated 21 January 1999, the European Court of Justice (ECtHR) regulated the authorities’ interference in the right to freedom of expression, noting as follows,

“The necessity of any interference with the exercise of freedom of expression must be established in a convincing manner. Certainly, the domestic authorities must first of all appraise whether there is an ‘urgent public need’ that can justify that interference in the exercise of which they have a certain margin of appreciation. When it concerns the press, as in the present case, the States’ margin of appreciation collides with the interest of a democratic society in securing and maintaining press freedom. Also, a particular weight must be attached to that interest when it comes to determining, as required by Article 10(2), whether the interference was in conformity with the legitimate objective pursued”. – https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-58906%22]}

The consequence of the violation of the journalist’s Right to Freedom of Expression was a violation of his Right to Liberty. He was subjected to administrative arrest for a period of 30 days, whereas the Right to Liberty is guaranteed by the Article 28 of the Azerbaijani Constitution, which stipulates that everyone has the Right to Liberty that may be restricted solely and only in the manner stipulated by the Law by means of detention, imprisonment or deprivation of liberty. Besides the provisions of the National Law, the Right to Liberty is enshrined in the European Convention, Article 5 (1), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 9, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in the numerous precedents of the European Court of Human Rights, issued against either Azerbaijan or other member states of the Council of Europe.

Thus, a violation of two most fundamental rights of the democratic society, namely the Right to Freedom of Expression (Article 10 of the European Convention) and the Right to Liberty and Security of the Individual (Article 5 of the European Convention) in respect of N. Qahramanli must be recognized.