THE COURT FOUND THE OPPOSITION ACTIVIST GUILTY AND SENTENCED HIM TO IMPRISONMENT
Analysis of violation of law during Zamin Salayev’s judicial proceedings
Baku City Qaradag District Court
Case № 1(002)-181/2023
22 May 2023
Presiding judge: Rufan Mursalov
Defendant: Zamin Salayev
Defender: Nemat Karimli, Fakhraddin Mehdiyev
The State Prosecutor: an advisor of justice Seymur Mahmudov, Prosecutor at the Department of Public Prosecution Support in the Courts of Baku City under the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Azerbaijan Republic
Zamin Salayev, the Chairman of the People’s Front Party Salyan branch, has repeatedly been brought to criminal and administrative charges for being active in the opposition party, his participation in various rallies, and for harshly criticizing the authorities on social networks.
Z.Salayev’s administrative arrests were mainly related to the Article 535.1 (Failure to obey the legitimate demands of a policeman) of the Administrative Code of the Azerbaijan Republic.
In 2020, the Salyan District Court sentenced Zamin Salayev to 2 years and 3 months of imprisonment having found him guilty of committing a crime under the Articles 147.2 (The slander, which is connected with accusation of committing serious or especially serious crime) and 148 (The Insult) of the Criminal Code of the Azerbaijan Republic. On 19 January 2022, Zamin Salayev was released in accordance with an Act of amnesty.
On 7 February 2023, Zamin Salayev was detained by the police on suspicion of committing a crime under the Article 221.3 (The hooliganism committed with application of a weapon or subjects, used as the weapon) of the Criminal Code of the Azerbaijan Republic. As written in the case file, Zamin Salayev inflicted with a knife physical injury to Natiq Suleymanov
In the course of the trial, Zamin Salayev testified that the charges brought against him had been fabricated. Besides, Zamin Salayev testified that on the evening of February 7, 2023, he had been in the outskirts of Baku, at Logbatan circle in order to return home to the Salyan district. Then suddenly a man was heading in his direction shouting obscene language. According to Zamin Salayev, the man abruptly pulled out a knife from his pocket. At that moment he realized that it was a provocation and pushed him away. When he tried to move away, many people gathered around him. He understood that the whole action was planned in advance in order to arrest him. Zamin Salayev considers his arrest as politically motivated.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan has spread the information that at night, on 7 February 2023, Zamin Salayev had been detained for inflicting physical injuries to Natiq Suleymanov. – https://www.xural.com/zamin-salayev-haqda-h%C9%99bs-q%C9%99rari-verildi/
On 8 February 2023, the Baku City Qaradag District Court issued a ruling: to satisfy the motion and request, and apply a preventive measure in the form of detention for a period of 3 months to Zamin Salayev
Immediately after his arrest, Zamin Salayev announced a hunger strike protesting against his arbitrary arrest that lasted 112 days. According to his lawyers, Zamin Salayev lost 47 kilos; his weight from 118 dropped to 71 kilos, there were wounds on his body, he had a fever of 33 degrees, his blood pressure was 60/40, and he had difficulties to move.
On 12 May 2023, the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan commented on the arrest of Zamin Salayev. An Embassy representative told the “Turan” News Agency:
The United States continues to call on Azerbaijani authorities to release all individuals unjustly or arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms. –
On 2 May 2023, in the Baku City Qaradag District Court there was a preliminary hearing on the case of Zamin Salayev. When testifying at the trial, he could not stand on his feet and was allowed to talk while seated. The wounds on his body were demonstrated to all those at the trial.
At the trial, Mr. Salayev did not plead guilty to the charge brought against him and testified that the case had been premeditated against him, as he was a political activist and chairman of the Salyan branch of the People’s Front Party of Azerbaijan. Zamin Salayev also indicated that he had been with his friend, the lawyer Nemat Karimli, on the day of his arrest. Then, he called for a car in order to go to the Logbatan circle. The victim and witnesses in the case mentioned different time of the event. According to Zamin Salayev, everything happened at 22:30 on 7 February 2023. He was walking along the narrow sidewalk and the victim, Natiq Suleymanov, came down toward him. The latter deliberately stepped on his foot and then started swearing. Suleymanov was holding something shiny in his hands. Having realized that it was a provocation, Z.Salayev pushed N.Suleymanov aside. After that Salayev tried to run away but 10-15 policemen in civilian clothes turned up. They knocked Salayev to the ground and handcuffed him. The policemen took away his phone and bag. Then, he was placed in a Jeep and taken to the 10th police station. There, he was said that the man with whom he had the incident died. Z.Salayev explained that he had not committed a crime, that day he had been drinking wine with friends but he was not drunk and could control himself.
Natiq Suleymanov, who was recognized as a victim, reaffirmed his testimony provided during the investigation and testified that on 7 February 2023, at about 00.30, a man in a black jacket, burly, under alcoholic intoxication, approached him. An argument broke out between them, in the course of which the man pulled out a knife and headed towards him. Upon seeing many people around, the man threw the knife onto the ground. The police officers showed up and grabbed him.
Semral Hamidli and the police officer Emin Mamedov, who were questioned during the trial as witnesses, testified saying that the incident took place at 00:40 on 7 February 2023. They also testified that they saw a well-built man shouting profanities and beating N. Suleymanov. E.Mammadov insisted that there was a knife next to Suleymanov, and there were blood-like drops on the ground. He wanted to call the ambulance service 103, but Natiq Suleymanov said that he would not be able to wait. He got into an unidentified car and, according to him, drove off to the hospital.
The police officers, Afgan Aliyev and Etibar Eyvazov, who were also questioned as witnesses, provided similar testimonies. Bilal Mirzoyev, a witness summoned to the trial, did not appear in the courtroom. He confirmed the testimony provided during the investigation sent by telegram.
According to the conclusion of the forensic medical examination dated 6 March 2023, N. Suleymanov had injuries such as bruises under the eye in the form of hematoma, a cut of the third finger phalanx of his right hand, and two superficial sores on the left side of the abdomen. The bruises under the eye could have been caused as a result of a blow with a blunt object, and the incised wounds could have been caused with a sharp object (perhaps a knife). The date of the injuries matches 7 February 2023.
Based on the results of the forensic medical examination of 10 March 2023, the victim N. Suleymanov’s blood group and that of Z. Salayev, as well as the blood on the victim’s clothes are identical.
The results of forensic dactyloscopy dated 3 April 2023, indicated that the fingerprints found on the knife seized at the scene of the incident, as well as those of Z. Salayev, available in the database, are identical.
The alcohol intoxication examination of 7 February 2023, revealed that Z. Salayev had been slightly intoxicated.
The Court considered the recidivism of the committed crime as an aggravating circumstance, and the availability of Salayev’s young daughter as a mitigating one.
On 22 May 2023, in the Baku City Qaradag District Court issued a verdict against Zamin Salayev. He was found guilty on the charges and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment in a strict regime colony.
Commentary by expert lawyer:
The court verdict is unlawful and unjustified.
The Criminal Procedure Code of the Azerbaijan Republic establishes the principles of criminal proceedings. These principles apply from the very beginning to the end of criminal proceedings including trials.
The fundamental ones are legality, equality of all before the law, the Constitutional guarantee of civil Rights and Freedoms, respect of a person’s dignity and integrity, the Right to liberty, inviolability of private life, residence, property, the presumption of innocence, and other related rights.
The participants of the judicial process, including judges, are obliged to protect citizens and society as a whole from arbitrary arrests. Unfortunately, arbitrary arrests are rather the rule than the exception in Azerbaijan. Especially when it comes to political and public activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and simply active members of civil society. In these types of cases, the Courts openly depend on the executive authorities.
The examples of criminal cases monitored by the human rights defenders demonstrate all kinds of gross violations of substantive and procedural laws, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Norms, as well as the inconsistency of the judgments issued with the precedents of the European Court of Human Rights, that are mandatory.
The commented criminal case brought against a political activist, member of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, is no different from other “sensitive” cases.
Even if it is written in the Article 10.1 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Azerbaijan Republic that the Courts and all participants of criminal proceedings must strictly observe the provisions of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, the Criminal Procedure Code of the Azerbaijan Republic and other legislations of the Azerbaijan Republic, as well as other international agreements involving the Azerbaijan Republic, in practice it does not comply.
In the case there are many nuances, issues that have not been examined and clarified by the Court. The gathered by the pre-trial investigation body evidences, on which the Court has relied in issuing a verdict, to say the least, are untrustworthy.
Thus, if we examine the witnesses’ identities called upon by the investigators, we’ll see that among them are mostly the police officers who have a direct interest in the case outcome. Their testimonies are literally indistinguishable from one another and copied from the indictment by the Court. Despite the fact that the police officers’ testimonies are not the only ones in this criminal case, however, they are crucial.
There is no indication of the position and arguments of the defence in the verdict, other than the defendant’s testimony considered to be of the “nature of defence” by the Court. It is indeed the phrase employed in all “sensitive” cases with political connotations.
Moreover, the authorities in charge of criminal proceedings are not allowed to grant anyone involved in criminal proceedings preferential treatment based on citizenship, social, sexual, racial, national, political or religious affiliation, language, origin, wealth or occupational status, beliefs, place of residence, location or other grounds not justified by the law. Discrimination is prohibited in any form.
The statement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which referred to the hooliganism committed by Z.Salayev, also confirms the political nature of this criminal case. As a rule, such statements are made by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs in connection to criminal cases initiated against the political activists. The purpose is to introduce the detainee as a criminal to the society prior to the court verdict, which grossly violates the presumption of innocence, enshrined in the Article 63 of the Azerbaijani Constitution, Article 21 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Azerbaijan Republic and Article 6(2) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
In the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case Allene de Ribemont v. France from 10 February 1995, it is written,
“Freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Article 10 of the Convention applies also to the freedom both to receive and distribute information. Consequently, the Article 6 para. 2 cannot prevent the authorities from informing the public about ongoing criminal investigations but it requires that the authorities exercise their discretion and sensitivity, as required with respect to the presumption of innocence.”
Despite the fact that the results of the examination confirmed that there were the defendant’s fingerprints on the handle of the knife, it does not indicate the attribution of the knife to Salayev in particular. In this case, all the circumstances of the case should be clearly defined, i.e., by whom this or that act was committed.
As mentioned above, a prosecution witness, Semral Hamidli, testified that he had seen blood-like stains on the ground. It should be recalled here that the event took place at night when it is not easy to distinguish not only who is who but also to see drops of blood on the ground in the darkness. The Court did not establish at what distance from the participants in the event the witness was, what his eyesight was, or whether he could theoretically and practically see what had happened in order to provide such a clear statement. The partiality of the Court is also demonstrated by the fact that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were found to be irrefutable by the Court.
These serious violations, mentioned above, led to the fundamental right violation in relation to Zamin Salayev, the Right to Freedom guaranteed by the Article 28 of the Azerbaijani Constitution, Article 14 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Azerbaijan Republic as well as by the Article 5 (1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.