Azerbaijan: Concerns over restrictions to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association
Seven years after the last review of Azerbaijan by the Human Rights Committee, the State was reviewed for its fourth time on 20th and 21st October 2016 at the 118th session of the Committee. Most of the issues discussed seven years ago were still on the agenda of this session and the Committee expected answers from Azerbaijan’s delegation.
"It seems that any meeting not planned in advance would be systematically banned and in some cases violently repressed"
Freedom of peaceful assembly and association
At the opening remaks, the State delegation highlighted that the amendments to the Constitution, approved by the referendum in September 2016, strengthen the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Nevertheless, the Committee experts shared concerns expressed by the national opposition and the Council of Europe and noted that the amendments actually limited rights and freedoms, in particular the freedoms of association and assembly.
Committee experts also made echo of the observations made by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders after its visit to the Azerbaijan in September 2016, which highlight serious violations to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.
Committee members also expressed concern about the reports of politically motivated trials and reprisals against lawyers representing defendants in those trials as well as the lack of full independence of the judiciary. Furthermore, the experts said that they were aware of cases of disbarment of lawyers representing human rights defenders and journalists. The delegation answered that lawyers have been disbarred for offending judges.
Torture and ill-treatment
Another main concern expressed by the Committee was related to torture and ill treatment. According to the delegation of Azerbaijan, no case of torture was recorded in 2015 nor in the first 3 months of 2016. However, Azerbaijan has been convicted for torture cases by the European Court of Human Rights in 2015. The Committee also raised allegations of torture and ill treatment used as a dissuasive measure to spread fear among the civil society. The delegation replied by denying a widespread use of torture and referring to the Criminal Code, which prohibits all acts of torture and ill treatment.
Freedom of religion
On freedom of religion, recalling the previous Concluding Observations of the Committee in 2009, an expert asked about the measures taken in order to remove the obligation to register religious communities and to ammend the 2009 law on religion in order to make it compliant with the provisions of the article 18 of the Covenant. The Committee also noted that there was an increase of arrests of members of religious communities and especially of activists for the freedom of religion. The delegation explained the mandate of the State Committee on Religious Associations of Azerbaijan, but did not expressly replied to the questions of the experts.
Recommendations of the Committee
The Concluding Observations for which the State should provide information on the implementation within one year, concern:
- Torture and ill-treatment: The State party should take effective measures to eradicate torture and ill-treatment, inter alia by ensuring that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly and thoroughly investigated by an independent and impartial body, that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, are punished with adequate sanctions, and that victims are provided with effective remedies and full reparation, including appropriate compensation.
- Independence and safety of lawyers: The State party should take immediate measures to ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place, both in law and in practice, to guarantee the full independence and safety of lawyers and their effective protection against any form of retaliation, including violence, in connection with their professional activity.
- Freedom of expression: The State party should take all measures necessary to guarantee the full enjoyment of freedom of expression by everyone in practice. It should take immediate steps to end any repression against human rights defenders, youth activists, political opponents, independent journalists and bloggers, provide effective protection against persecution or retaliation, and ensure that any restrictions on the exercise of their freedom of expression comply with the strict requirements of article 19 (3) of the Covenant. The State party should also consider decriminalizing defamation and, in any case, countenance the application of criminal law only in the most serious of cases, bearing in mind that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation.
The next (fifth) periodic report of Azerbaijan should be submitted by 4 November 2020.
For an in-depth analysis of the review of Azerbaijan read the article from the Human Rights House Foundation.