Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Azerbaijan: Police Brutality Rife

Activists worried about repeated failure to bring those responsible to justice.
As we were coming out of the toilet, three policemen stopped us and demanded we turn out our pockets,” said Parviz Mamedov, an eleventh form pupil in a Baku school.

“Vugar refused to obey, and they pushed him back into the lavatory and started beating him. Even the teachers could not tear them away from Vugar. His nose was broken and his face was covered in blood.”

“They left Vugar and turned to me,” Parviz went on. “They took me by force to the police station and kept on beating me until my parents came. Now they say that we damaged their car.”

The incident occurred in Baku’s secondary School No. 238 last November, when officers turned up to detain teenage smokers.

“I don’t understand what right the policemen had to enter the school without permission and beat up teenagers,” the boys’ headmaster, Abbasali Farajev, told IWPR. “The job of bringing up children lies with the school, not the police.”

A survey by the non-governmental organisation World Without Violence suggests that one in every ten Azerbaijanis between the age of 15 and 60 have personally experienced - on at least one occasion in his life - policemen breaking the law.

“We also probed how exactly our respondents had suffered at the hands of policemen,” said Rasim Guliev, director of World Without Violence. “We got various replies. For instance, minibus drivers said policemen never paid their fares.”

Interior Minister Ramil Usubov has responded to complaints by saying that the law-enforcement agencies work better these days. He said the number of complaints about the police’s illegal behaviour received by his ministry in 2006 dropped by 17 per cent from the year before.

Fuad Aleskerov, chief of president’s department for work with law-enforcement agencies, told journalists that the presidential apparatus had received 700 complaints about the activities of the interior ministry personnel in 2006, more than 500 of them relating to illegal acts allegedly committed by the police.

The parents of the two beaten pupils from School No. 238 have complained to the prosecutor’s office.

But Asif Aliev, deputy chief of the Nizami district police department where the officers came from, said the boys’ allegations were untrue.

“Our colleagues didn’t beat those lads,” he told IWPR. “They just told them off, but the smoking teenagers put up resistance. An investigation is going on, so I can’t say anything more at the moment.”

Elchin Bekhbudov, director of the non-governmental group Committee Against Violence, said that police abuse was still rife and that last December alone his organisation had received 18 complaints from people about violent abuse by officers. The most frequent complaints were about officers from Baku’s Nizami district.

“The figure does not actually reflect the real situation,” said Bekhbudov. “Because not everyone who’s suffered violence at the hands of policemen has the courage to speak up.”

Activists are not only worried about violent incidents, but also repeated failures to bring to account those responsible for them.

In a notorious incident in 2001, policemen from the Sabail district police department detained Ilgar Javadov, 32, in the centre of the city. It was midnight and he was returning home from a party with his wife.

“Ilgar refused to go with them and asked what he’d done wrong,” his wife told journalists after the incident. “The policemen said, ‘If you are an ordinary citizen, what business do you have loitering along the boulevard in the middle of the night embracing a woman?’ He said, ‘This is my wife.’ ‘Let’s go to the station and check if she is,’ they answered.”

This was the last that they saw of Javadov. He was taken away, his father was notified and came to the police station within an hour to be told that Ilgar had jumped out of a fifth floor window and died. The incident was widely covered in Azerbaijan.

Javadov was officially said to have committed suicide. Several officers were dismissed on negligence charges, but none was convicted. And the full truth of what happened that night has never been established.

Israil Hasanov, 46, is another victim of police abuse. Last October, he went to the police station in the Khatain district of Baku, where his son was being held on suspicion of having committed a crime.

“Several policemen started talking roughly to me,” said Hasanov. “When I demanded they treat me politely, they handcuffed me and began beating me.”

As a result, he ended up in the Central Clinical Hospital, with head injuries.

IWPR was told a different version of events in the Khatain police department - that Hasanov had allegedly arrived there drunk, insulted policemen and broken a window and that they had been forced to restrain him.

Other complainants whom IWPR spoke to during the research for this article included an 85-year-old war veteran, Nuraddin Jafarov. He said that he was beaten during a visit to the interior ministry’s visa and registration department with his grandson. When he complained about being rudely treated, he was attacked and suffered multiple fractures. The case is currently being investigated.

In another incident, two young men, Ruslan Murtuzov, aged 22, and his friend Igamil Aliev, 23, who said they were beaten when they were sitting in a car and asked policemen who requested their documents for proof of identity.

“Even when dealing with a criminal, a policeman must not transgress the borders of the law and exceed his powers,” said Bekhbudov. “Unfortunately, most policemen in Azerbaijan are not familiar with the country’s laws. And many of them cannot claim to be professional. That is why they often have to uncover crimes with the help of their truncheons.”

“Most policemen are just racketeers in uniforms,” said Akhmedaga Akhmedov, 25, who dreamt of becoming a policeman when a child, but long ago gave up the ambition. “It’s better to keep away from them. God forbid anyone should ever get into their hands: at best, they will strip you naked, and at worst, they will pin a criminal case on you and put you behind bars when you’ve committed no crime.”

Samir Kazymly and Sabuhi Mamedli are reporters with Yeni Musavat newspaper in Baku.

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