Baku Grave Crimes Court pronounced the verdict for Ikram Rahimov
Analysis of violation of law during Ikram Rahimov’s judicial proceedings
Defendant: Ikram Rahimov
Defender: Elchin Sadiqov
Public Prosecutor: Jeyhun Budagov
Victims: Jabir Jafarov, Zakir Huseynov, Elkhan Dadashev, Rafiq Adilov, Azer Mirzoyev
Representative of the victim Jabir Jafarov: Jeyhun Yusifov
Ikram Rahimov is a researcher-journalist who has 20 years’ journalistic experience, an author of a number of articles in which he harshly criticizes and exposes the actions of high-ranking officials. During the trial, in 2016, he was found guilty of a crime under Article 147.2. (defamation connected with the accusation for serious or especially serious crime) of the Criminal Code of the Azerbaijan Republic (CC AR) and sentenced to 1 year imprisonment.
On March 1, 2017, the Sumgayit Court of Appeal reversed the first instance verdict and released the journalist from custody. After his liberation I. Rahimov was repeatedly persecuted. The persecutions were expressed in such actions as physical assaults, unauthorized illegal entry into his house, seizure of electronic media (computer, etc.) as well as oppression by the Press Council that he constantly criticized. The Press Council organized a campaign against Ikram Rahimov, and the Press Council management sent complaints against him to the State Security Service and the Prosecutor General’s Office.
On October 26, 2018, at 12:25 a.m., on the site www.realliq.info headed by I. Rahimov there was a publication of an article criticizing Ali Hasanov, the President’s Public Affairs Assistant, and the Press Council. At 15:38, the very same day, Rahimov posted a status on his Facebook page where he wrote that while driving his car a BMW stopped right in front of his car, and four unknown men got out trying to ambush his vehicle. He managed to close all windows and escape. The journalist pointed out that there were security cameras on this road section, and the footage of road cameras should capture the attack described by him. In order to ensure his own safety, he had to hide in the office of the Turan News Agency. Rahimov informed the media about the threat to his safety whilst being inside the Agency building.
On October 26, 2018, at 16:51 the Turan News Agency spread information concerning Ikram Rahimov’s detention by unknown individuals when a detainee was leaving the Agency’s building. On the same day it became known that Ikram Rahimov was indeed detained by the State Security Service. On October 27, 2018,The Press Council and its members published several articles about Rahimov’s racketeering and extortion of money. After that, the State TV channels broadcast the news, which described Ikram Rahimov involvement in racketeering.
The journalist was charged under Article 182.2.2 of the Criminal Code of AR (the committed repeatedly extortion). According to the charges, during the period from 2016 to 2018 Ikram Rahimov was menacing to extort money from the victim Zakir Huseynov under the threat of spreading of incriminating articles. He committed the same crime against other victims. On February 12, 2019, the State Security Service (SSS) distributed an audio recording of alleged Ikram Rahimov’s voice that should prove an extortion of money. Rahimov’s lawyer has applied several times for an expert examination to establish the authenticity of the audio recording, but these applications have not been considered.
During the trial, the victims withdrew their testimony provided at the preliminary investigation, stated that there were no claims against Rahimov, and stated that they had been forcibly obliged to give that testimony. All the victims also stated that they had never known the journalist.
The case file shows that the witness, Rauf Mirzoyev, suffered a heart attack. It can also be seen from the materials of the case that R. Mirzoyev suffered a heart attack immediately after being interrogated by the SSS. The defence repeatedly filed petitions to summon Mirzoyev and question him at the trial but the court rejected the petitions due to Rauf’s serious state of health. Ikram Rahimov is sure that Rauf Mirzoyev suffered heart attack because of the investigating body pressure.
During the investigation Ikram Rahimov pleaded not guilt and stated that his arrest was caused and provoked by his journalistic activity.
On June 12, 2019, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes found Ikram Rahimov guilty of committing the accusation and sentenced him to 5 years and 6 months imprisonment and to 3 years’ deprivation of the right to hold senior and responsible posts in state and local government bodies.
Commentary by expert lawyer:
The court verdict is unlawful and unjustified. According to the Article 12 of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, (I) Ensuring the rights and freedoms of citizen, a decent standard of living for citizens of the Azerbaijan Republic is the highest priority of the state; (II) The rights and freedoms of citizens set forth in the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic are applied in accordance with the international treaties signed by the Azerbaijan Republic.
Article 24 of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic states: ”1.Everyone, from the moment when they are born possesses inviolable and inalienable rights and liberties”.
Article 25 of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic states “III. The State guarantees the protection of the rights and freedoms of everyone.
Articles 28 and 47 of the AR Constitution guarantee everyone the right to freedom and the right to freedom of thought and speech. These are general constitutional norms that guarantee certain rights and freedoms to citizens.
As mentioned above, the SSS distributed the information, which described Ikram Rahimov’s involvement in racketeering calling him an extortionist, at the same time the SSS made this assumption prior the court final case decision. One of the fundamental principles of a democratic society is the principle of presumption of innocence, which is guaranteed by a certain rule of the Constitution and criminal procedure Law. Thus, according to Article 63 of the AR Constitution:
Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent. Everyone accused of committing a crime shall be considered innocent until his guilt is proved in accordance with the procedure established by Law and the court sentence, which has entered into legal force in this regard.
If there are reasonable doubts as to the guilt of a person, the conviction of that person is not permitted.
Article 21 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Azerbaijan Republic (CPC AR) states:
“21.1 Anyone accused of committing a crime shall be admitted as innocent until his guilt is proved in the order provided for by the present Code and the sentence of the court, which has entered into legal force about it.
21.2 A conviction of a person is inadmissible even if there is a well-founded suspicion of guilt. In accordance with the provisions of the present Code, doubts, which cannot be resolved in the course of the relevant legal procedure, shall be resolved in favour of the accused (suspect). Similarly, doubts not eliminated in the application of criminal procedure laws shall be resolved in his favour.“
In the case of the arrested journalist, a number of dubious evidence can be noticed, which was interpreted by the court not in his favor but contrariwise.
Paragraph 3 of Article 21 of the CPC AR states,“ Individual accused of a crime shall not be obliged to prove his innocence. The obligation to prove the accusation, to refute the arguments put forward in the defence of the accused, falls on the side of the prosecution.” This means that the prosecution must present irrefutable evidence that fully proves the guilt of the accused. In Rahimov’s case, there was no such convincing evidences of his guilt, the charges were not substantiated, and I. Rahimov’s guilt was not proven during the trial.
The right to be presumed innocent also enshrines Article 6(2) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Thus, every person accused of a criminal offence is presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the Law. The presumption of innocence is primarily aimed at protecting the accused from conviction, unless the latter is legally justified. The presumption of innocence should apply throughout the entire criminal process, regardless of the outcome of the investigation, and not only when considering the validity of the charge. It also requires that, in exercising their powers judges abandon the biased idea that the defendant has committed a criminal act, as the burden of proof lies on the prosecution and any doubt is interpreted in favor of the accused. The presumption of innocence guarantees to any person that the State representatives shall not regard him/her as guilty of a crime unless it is proved by a competent court in accordance with the Law.
Article 125.1 of the CPC AR states, “Information, documents and other things could be accepted as evidence if there is no doubt about their validity, the source of appearance and the circumstances of receipt”.
The investigation did not have sufficient evidence to fully prove the guilt of Ikram Rahimov. The audio record distributed by the SSS was not verified by the expert examination, although the defence repeatedly applied for verification of the record authenticity. Article 220 of the CPC AR clearly states:
– 220.2. “During the preliminary investigation an investigator or inquirer should consider all the petitions submitted by the participants of the criminal proceedings.
– 220.3. “An investigator or inquirer shall not be entitled to unreasonably reject the satisfaction of written requests to question a suspect, accused person, civil plaintiff, civil defendant and their representatives, witnesses, to carry out an expertise, to carry out other investigative actions, when it is important for a comprehensive, complete and objective investigation of all circumstances related to the criminal prosecution.
As can be seen from the text of this article, the Law prohibits an investigator to reject petitions that are relevant to the full and objective investigation of all circumstances of the case. The issue of authenticity of the audio recording was a key issue in the investigation of this case.
In addition, the victims’ testimonies are quite contradictory. During the investigation, they voiced claims against I. Rahimov, and during the trial, all but one of them denied the claims and said that they had not suffered any damage as a result of the journalist’s actions and had no complaints against him. If there is no damage or any harm in the case, it means that there was no crime.
The described above persecution of the journalist on the day of his detention on October 26, 2018, also reveals a violation of Rahimov’s rights. The detention was conducted with violation of the Law criminal procedure provisions and, it was biased and groundless.
According to Article 138.2. CPC AR, the obligation to prove the grounds for bringing the accused to criminal responsibility and his guilt lies with the prosecutor. The investigating body did not provide sufficient evidence for the court in order to find I.Rahimov guilty. The prosecution did not prove the journalist’s guilt. However, despite this, the court handed down guilty verdict.
Article 144 of the CPC AR states that the evidence collected in the course of criminal proceedings must be verified in its entirety, in a comprehensive and objective manner. During the verification, all evidences should be analyzed and compared with each other, also the reliability of source of newly collected evidence must be determined.
Article 145.1 of the CPC AR states that after the evidence verification, it is a process of evaluation and testing. Each evidence shall be evaluated according to its ownership, possibility and reliability. And all the evidence collected during the investigation must be assessed on the basis of all relevant elements and factors.
The court violated the legal requirements for the sentence. Thus, according to Article 349.3 of the CPC AR, the court sentence must be lawful and motivated.
In accordance with Article 349.5 of the CPC AR, a court sentence is recognized as motivated in the following cases:
if the conclusions made by the court are based only on the evidence examined during the court investigation;
if there is sufficient amount of evidence to evaluate the prosecution;
if the circumstances analyzed by the court correspond to the examined evidences.
Article 6(1) (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms also imposes this requirement on the sentence.
There is no motivation in the court verdict in the case of Ikram Rahimov. The court’s conclusions are based on evidence that is not sufficient to assess the prosecution, and the evidence itself has not been examined in the course of the judicial investigation (lack of expertise to establish the audio recording authenticity, testimony of the victims who withdrew their claims and complaints against the accused in the course of the court).
All mentioned above created reasonable doubts to accept the court verdict against the journalist Ikram Rahimov, since it is unjustified, illegal and unmotivated.