religious activist pressed with drug charges over criticism of the government online

Razi Humbatov, a member of a religious movement “Muslim Unity” went missing on July 7. Two days later, his whereabouts were confirmed to Meydan TV, by a human rights organization “Defense Line” as well as Humbatov’s lawyer, Javad Javadov. According to the human rights organization spokesperson Rufat Safarov, and the lawyer, Humbatov was taken to the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ main department for Combating Organized Crime where he was charged with drug possession charges. 

Speaking to Meydan TV, Rufat Safarov from the “Defense Line” said, there were allegations of torture against the religious activist. 

Humbatov’s lawyer said he intends to file a number of complaints including violation of rights, and withholding of information on Humbatov’s whereabouts. 

The “Muslim Unity” said in a statement shared on Facebook that Humbatov is not a drug user, nor did he ever sell drugs. If anything, he actively engaged in anti-drug campaigns. The movement indicated that the real reason behind his detention is the critical posts of the government Humbatov often shared on his Facebook.

On July 8, Humbatov was sentenced to four months in pre-trial detention. In a hearing on July 14 at the Baku Court of Appeals, the judge ruled against Humbatov’s release. 

If convicted, Humbatov is facing up to 12 years in prison reported Meydan TV. 

A number of international watchdogs have reported about torture and prosecution of scores of “Muslim Unity” members, including the movement’s leader Tale Bagirzade who was sentenced to twenty years in 2017.

youth activist gets detention over criticism online [Updated March 4]

[Update] On March 3, Sumgayit Appeal Court held a hearing in the case of arrested N!DA member Elmir Abbasov. During the hearing, Abbasov recounted how he was taken off the street, beaten, and humiliated by the local police and how they planted drugs on him. The presiding judge, Elman Ahmadov, prevented journalists, civil society representatives, and Abbasov’s family members from entering the courtroom reported Azadliq Radio. Abbasov’s lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, said, this constitutes a violation of the court’s transparency principle. All of the lawyer’s motions were dismissed, including a request to study camera footage on the day of the arrest, as well as the questioning of Rauf Babashov, the Deputy Chief of Sumgayi City Police department. 

The case launched against the activist claims, Abbasov was detained as a suspect in the theft. The activist rejects the case brought against him. In his statement, Abbasov said, he went to buy bread from the market, when he was stopped by plainclothed men. They told Abbasov he was to come with them to the police station. When he refused to follow the men, asking for an official warrant, he was shoved into the car and taken to the city police department. In his statement, Abbasov said after arriving at the city police department he was held there for five hours, after which he was transferred to police station no.4. “They threatened me. One police officer named Bahruz started shaking me and using derogatory language on our way to the station. When we got out of the car, he dragged me by my jacket. Then he started hitting me at the entrance to the station. At that moment another officer, under the pretext of rescuing me, dropped drugs in my pocket,” recounted Abbasov in court. 

Police claim they found drugs on Abbasov during their search. But Abbasov’s lawyer, Elchin Sadigov argues the delay in full body search, even by half an hour after an arrest is suspicious. Especially when Abbasov remained under police custody for several hours and was searched hours later. 

Despite the lawyer’s motion to release Abbasov, the court rejected the appeal and kept its previous decision in the case of the activist  – one-month administrative detention. 

On February 22, Elmir Abbasov, a member of civic movement N!DA [translation: exclamation mark] was arrested in Sumgayit. He was sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention on bogus drug possession charges. 

Abbasov’s friends, refute drug allegations, saying the arrest is connected to his posts online, critical of the ruling government and that Abbasov was kidnapped in front of his home in Sumgayit city.

Following Abbasov’s arrest, N!DA movement issued this statement: “Member of N!DA and activist Elmir Abbasov was detained several days ago. We were only able to find out today [February 22]. Elmir Abbasov’s lawyer, Zibeyde Sadigova confirmed his detention. Elmir Abbasov was sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention in accordance with Article 206 of the Code of Administrative Offenses [Illegal consumption of drugs, psychotropic substances, preparation, acquisition, storage, transportation, or shipment in the amount of personal consumption without the purpose of sale]. Surely, the reason for Elmir Abbasov’s arrest is his political and social activism, his posts on social networks. Elmir Abbasov’s arrest is yet another example of persecution and repression against political activists. The primary condition for having a civil and just political environment in Azerbaijan is to stop all political repressions and release of all political prisoners. All political prisoners and Elmir Abbasov must be freed!”

Nidaçı fəal Elmir Abbasov bir neçə gün öncə Sumqayıt polisi tərəfindən saxlanılıb. Bu barədə məlumatı bu gün əldə…

Posted by Nida Vətəndaş Hərəkatı on Monday, February 22, 2021

Abbasov’s most recent post was published on February 16 which gives ground for his friends and colleagues to believe, that the cause of Abbasov’s arrest was this post. “The people of Azerbaijan know the truth, but do not speak it. The people know, that the main culprit of corruption in the country is Ilham Aliyev. The ministers, the government officials are simply a small part of this scheme. Is it really possible that billions are removed from the state budget and the head of state is unaware of this? Of course, he does and he also profits from it. So if people are aware of this, why they don’t say anything? Because the people are afraid of Ilham Aliyev. They are afraid of the things they may lose [employment, community, freedom, lives] if they go against Ilham Aliyev […]”

Azərbaycan xalqı həqiqəti bilir amma onu demir. Xalq bilir ki, ölkədə baş verən milyardlıq korrupsiya faktlarının əsl…

Posted by Elmir Abbasov on Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Independent journalist, Ulviyya Ali, reported on February 23, that Abbasov was tortured and beaten by the officers. “He was beaten both inside the car right after he was kidnapped from the front of his house and then at the station. He was threatened with torture unless he removed the post about Ilham Aliyev,” wrote the journalist via her Twitter account. 

The corruption allegations Abbasov alludes to in his Facebook post, are reflected in Azerbaijan’s global ranking on Corruption Perception Indexes. According to 2020, Transparency International global CPI Azerbaijan ranked 129 out of 180 countries. The most recent corruption scandal where Azerbaijan’s name cameos is this investigation, published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Project (OCCRP) on February 22. The investigation revealed how since 2015, Azerbaijan sold weapons stockpile to Congo-Brazaville. Although it was not possible to allocate the exact price the Congolese regime paid for the shipments, one expert said, it was possibly worth tens of millions of dollars, according to the investigation.

In 2017, another corruption scandal, Azerbaijani Laundromat exposed how the ruling elite ran a secret slush fund and a complex money-laundering scheme. The fund was mostly used to help whitewash Azerbaijan’s international image at the Council of Europe. Several delegates of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council (PACE), were among the recipients of the laundered money and were later expelled

These are just a few recent examples of how far and deep corruption runs. 

Elmir Abbasov is not the first activist to receive a bogus administrative sentence, fines, or face police violence over social media posts. This has been the case over recent years where scores of activists received offline punishments over their online comments, posts, and in the case of journalists, stories.