Azerbaijan prisoners tortured and ill-treated – EU torture committee

Prisoners in Azerbaijan are tortured and ill-treated with beatings by truncheon blows, punches and electric shocks, reports by the European Council torture committee found.

The types of ill-treatment alleged included slaps, punches, kicks, blows inflicted with a wooden stick, a chair leg, a baseball bat, a plastic bottle filled with water or with a thick book, a report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment said.

The committee earlier this month released six reports, spanning the years 2004, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and said :“torture and other forms of physical ill-treatment by the police and other law enforcement agencies, corruption in the whole law enforcement system and impunity remain systemic and endemic”.

It welcomed the decision of the Azerbaijani authorities to publish the reports, describing it as a “major breakthrough”,  but called for action.

In the report on 2017, the committee described the cooperation at the prisons as “excellent” but there was a “major failure” by the prosecutor general’s office. Despite repeated requests, the delegation did not manage to meet the prosecutors directly in charge of investigations nor have access to the relevant investigation files.

“Such a persistent refusal to co-operate in the assessment of the effectiveness of investigations into the allegations of ill-treatment/torture is totally unacceptable,” the report said.

The delegation received numerous and very widespread allegations of severe physical ill treatment of people detained as criminal suspects – some as young as 15 – by the police as criminal suspects.

The committee also expressed concern about the lack of action against fighting corruption. In one particular prison, inmates were obliged to pay for a majority of basic services such as visits, telephone calls, receiving parcels and food from the prison shop to which they were entitled by law.

At this same prison, in 2016, the delegation was” literally inundated with allegations of systematic and severe physical ill-treatment of inmates by staff, including severe beatings while prisoners were handcuffed to bars in a crucifixion position in the prison’s underground tunnel, sometimes combined with pouring cold water over the prisoners and placing a cold fan in front of them”.

“It is high time that the Azerbaijani authorities took decisive action to stamp out torture in the country and implement to the fullest extent the Committee’s recommendations,” committee president Mykola Gnatovskyy said.

The committee stressed that torture and other forms of severe physical ill-treatment of people detained by the police, other law enforcement agencies and the army remained widespread.

There was also a serious problem of impunity (lack of effective investigations) and ineffective legal safeguards for prisoners such as access to a lawyer, notification of custody, access to a doctor and information on rights.

The findings of the 2017 visit “suggest the existence of a generalised culture of violence among the staff of various law enforcement agencies,” Gnatovskyy said.

There was an ongoing problem of prison overcrowding, poor material conditions, inadequate medical care, lack of activities for the prisoners and under-paid and under-staffed prison staff.

The reports also highlighted serious problems in psychiatric hospitals and social care homes, including poor living conditions in many hospitals and violence between patients.

The Committee said it wanted to see the highest-level political Azerbaijani authorities making a public, firm and unequivocal statement of “zero tolerance” towards torture and other forms of ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in Azerbaijan.

There was a consistent pattern of alleged ill-treatment by investigators and police officers with the aim of getting a forced confession or extracting information from suspects.

Some of the more severe alleged forms of ill-treatment included torture, such as truncheon blows on the soles of the feet often while the individual was suspended, and electric shocks.

“The findings of the 2017 ad hoc visit suggest that, apart from the generally good material conditions in police detention facilities, all other long-standing recommendations concerning law enforcement agencies remain unimplemented and the situation has actually worsened,” the report said.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament issued a recommendation for the EU to ensure that Azerbaijan frees its political prisoners before negotiations on a new deal between two are concluded.

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