Founder of Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety Was Ill-Treated by Police and Suffered an Unjustified Interference With His Freedom of Assembly and Association

01 October 2015

Author: Olivia O'Kane
Practice Area: Media and Defamation

On 7th May 2015, the European Court of Human Rights gave their judgment in the case of Emin Huseynov v Azerbaijan. Emin Huseynov is an Azerbaijani national who founded the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a non-governmental organisation monitoring rights violations against journalists. The case dealt with Mr Huseynov’s detention and alleged ill-treatment by police in Baku.

Mr Huseynov attended a gathering at a privately owned cafe in Baku. Police entered the cafe a short while after the event began and took the participants to the police station. Mr Huseynov identified himself to police as a journalist and contacted a media agency to inform them that police were removing people from the cafe. Mr Huseynov was punched and taken to a police station. It is alleged that it was here that Mr Huseynov was taken to the Deputy Head of the Nasimi District Police Station’s office where he was verbally threatened and struck on the back of the neck which caused him to pass out; he was taken to the hospital that day. Mr Huseynov was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and contusion to his neck and was admitted to the intensive care unit.

A criminal inquiry was launched by the Nasimi District Police Station and Mr Huseynov was questioned by a forensic expert in hospital. The investigator decided not to institute criminal proceedings as it was deemed that his hospital admission was linked to a pre-existing medical condition and there was insufficient evidence to show that he had received any ill-treatment from the police.

Mr Huseynov lodged a criminal complaint stating that he had been ill-treated by police during his arrest and whilst in custody, that there had been no legal basis to arrest and detain him, and police intervention at a private function had not been justified. The complaint centred around his ill-treatment, unlawful detention, the interference with his freedom of expression and assembly and the failure on the part of the authorities to conduct an effective investigation. An application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 27th October 2009.

The European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that there had been:

-  Two violations of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights,

-  A violation of Articles 5 and 1 of the ECHR; and

-  A violation of Article 11 of the ECHR

The Court noted that the State needed to provide an explanation as to why an individual in good health when taken into police custody was injured at the time of release. Despite pre-existing health problems, My Huseynov was in good health when he arrived at the event, but unconscious by the time he left the police station. The forensic medical examiner failed to offer a medical explanation as to why Mr Huseynov was in an unconscious state when leaving police detention. Witnesses confirmed that Mr Huseynov had been verbally abused and that the police had used force during his arrest. The Court found that the ill-treatment was sufficiently serious to be considered inhuman and degrading and was in violation of Article 3. The complaint was examined by an investigator from the police station where the offence occurred, and a Government spokesman told the media, before the investigation was concluded, that Mr Huseynov had not been ill-treated which cast a shadow over the independence and impartiality of the investigation. The Court concluded that there had been no effective investigation which further violated Article 3, inhuman or degrading treatment and lack of effective investigation.

The Government denied arresting Mr Huseynov and claimed the reason for taking him to the police station was so that he could confirm his identity. Eyewitnesses confirmed that Mr Huseynov had shown police his identification documents at the event before being forced to go to the police station where he was detained for a period of four hours. Witnesses also supported Mr Huseynov’s version of events and the Court found that his arrest and detention on 14th June 2008 had been arbitrary and unlawful and violated both Article 5 and 1, right to liberty and security.

It was claimed that the police had gone to the event due to complaints received from neighbours, however, the police were unable to produce any evidence in support of this claim. A Government spokesman claimed that the police had intervened to interrupt an unauthorised gathering, but no reference was made to the complaints allegedly received from the neighbours. Azerbaijan’s Law on Freedom of Assembly states that gatherings in privately owned venues are not regulated by law and the authorities did not dispute this fact. The Court concluded that there had been no legal basis for breaking up an event held in a private establishment and the actions of the police were unjustified and in violation of Article 11, freedom of assembly and association.  

The Court held that Azerbaijan had to pay Mr Huseynov EUR 15,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 5,000 in respect of costs and expenses. 

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