The Council of Europe has launched unprecedented legal action against Azerbaijan over an imprisoned opposition politician, raising the possibility of the country being kicked out of the 47-nation council.
On December 5, the CoE Committee of Ministers announced that it was opening infringement proceedings “due to the authorities’ continuing refusal to ensure the unconditional release of opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov following a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights.”
In May 2014, the ECHR concluded that Mammadov, a leader of the opposition group REAL, had been falsely imprisoned. The court found that Mammadov’s arrest and pre-trial detention were initiated to silence him for criticizing the government.
Since then, the CoE has adopted repeated resolutions stressing the flaws in the criminal proceedings and calling for Mammadov’s immediate and unconditional release. However, in the three years since the judgment was made, Mammadov has remained in prison.
“Over three years since the court’s judgment became final, the applicant remains in detention on the basis of the flawed criminal proceedings,” the CoE said in a statement. It noted that this is the council's first-ever use of the infringement proceeding, and that Azerbaijan's refusal to release Mammadov after the ruling is unprecedented.
Azerbaijan was quick to respond.
Novruz Mammadov (no relation to Ilgar), presidential assistant on foreign affairs, said the CoE’s decision is an example of “European Islamophobia.” And he suggested that Azerbaijan may leave the CoE rather than being kicked out.
“Azerbaijan can take every step within its own interests whenever it needs that,” Novruz Mammadov said. “No one in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or in Europe wants Azerbaijan to leave the Council of Europe. The issue cannot be put in the form of Azerbaijan’s removal from the organization.”
He also argued that the body was “sacrific[ing] justice for smaller geopolitical interests,” which he implied were connected to Armenia.
Ilgar Mammadov, from prison, released a statement through his lawyer saying that he would withdraw his case from the EHCR if he were released unconditionally.
Bradley Jardine is a freelance journalist who covers the Caucasus.