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Azerbaijan: Investigate Death in Custody

Azerbaijan: Investigate Death in Custody

(New York, February 18, 2005)—The Azerbaijani government must conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the death in custody of a prisoner convicted for his participation in the October 2003 post-election disturbances, Human Rights Watch said today.

On February 17, 20-year-old Algait Magaramov died in prison No.17, where he had been serving a three-year sentence. He was one of 125 people brought to trial on charges relating to violent clashes that erupted between security forces and demonstrators protesting fraud during the presidential election in October 2003.

“This is a tragic ending for a man caught up in a very unfortunate chapter in Azerbaijan's history,” said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “It is the duty of the Azerbaijani authorities to find out what happened to this young man.”

Magaramov’s relatives told Human Rights Watch that when they last saw him on February 8 he had been in good health. They said that the authorities had provided no explanation for his death, but had promised the results of an autopsy carried out before his burial today in a week to ten days. One doctor with whom they spoke suggested that he died of a heart attack. His relatives, however, emphasized that he had always been fit and healthy. They saw no signs of injuries on his body.

According to the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, “[a] death in any type of custody should be regarded as prima facie a summary or arbitrary execution, and appropriate investigation should immediately be made to confirm or rebut the presumption. The results of investigations should be made public.”

In the October 2003 presidential election, the government carried out a well-organized campaign of fraud to ensure victory for Ilham Aliev. Massive street demonstrations protesting the fraud erupted in violence. The government responded with brutal and excessive force, unleashing its security forces to beat hundreds of demonstrators, some to the point of losing consciousness, and killing at least one protester.

Magaramov's relatives told Human Rights Watch that police brutally beat him after his arrest in October 2003 and tried to force him to give evidence against opposition party leaders. Magaramov gave evidence in court about his torture, but the judge rejected it, finding that the medical report he presented did not confirm injuries on his body. According to his relatives, the medical examination was carried out several months after the beating.

Magaramov was convicted in the Court of Grave Crimes on March 4, 2004. His appeal against the conviction was dismissed.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitored the trials of all 125 people charged in relation to the post-election violence and released a report on February 4 concluding that some of the trials fell well short of international standards. The report found instances in which courts admitted evidence that was said to have been coerced through the use of torture, and in which defendants were denied the right to legal counsel, the right to an impartial and independent tribunal, and the right to a reasoned judgment.

Regarding Magaramov’s trial (also spelled Mahharamov) the OSCE report raised concern about the court’s impartiality and the defense’s right to call and examine witnesses. The report also recommended that the Azerbaijani authorities release or retry all persons who were tried in trials that fell short of international standards. The European Union endorsed the OSCE recommendations in a statement on February 11.

“Magaramov was one of dozens of persons imprisoned in Azerbaijan since 2003 after an unfair trial,” said Denber. “His death highlights the need for the government to release or retry all those improperly held.”

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