Azerbaijan has launched new trials to prosecute several notorious cases of torture and killings in the military, but survivors and family members of those killed say the ultimate culprits are still not being held to account.
New trials related to the "Tartar case" – which involved hundreds of Azerbaijani soldiers getting rounded up for allegedly spying for Armenia and being tortured over a period of two to three months back in 2017 – were launched in mid-March. The government had remained silent on the allegations of survivors and victims' families for several years and only set to investigating the matter in late 2021. (All survivors deny the claims of espionage.)
Since then, 12 military officers, including one major general, have been arrested, a search warrant has been issued against one, and more charges were pressed against four who were already in prison for committing torture. In addition, a total of 452 people have been recognized as victims as a result of the renewed investigation; these include torture survivors and immediate family members of those killed. Most recently, in December 2022, 19 people who had been serving time for treason were released. (Sixteen more are still in prison, according to lawyer Rasul Jafarov, who is working on the case.)
In the March trials, four of the recently arrested officers were brought before the court, one of whom is a former unit commander. They face charges of illegal deprivation of freedom, torture by a state official and abuse of authority, for which they could each receive a maximum of 24 years in prison if convicted. One faces additional charges of negligent manslaughter and deliberately causing severe physical harm causing death, for which he could be sentenced to a maximum of an additional 19 years. The trials are open to the media, in contrast to how high-profile trials are generally held in Azerbaijan.
In their testimonies, victims have expressed discontent over the fact that many powerful military figures who they believed were behind the abuse are not even engaged in the investigation.
"There were no efforts to identify the real organizers of this crime,” Emil Orujov, one of the acknowledged torture victims, told the court, as quoted by Radio Azadliq, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service. He went on to name several commanders and called for their mobile phone record data to be reviewed, as it could shed light on their whereabouts while the abuse was being carried out.
Other victims who testified fingered the very top military brass. (When asked about the accusation against him in a June 2022 interview with Gununsesi.info, one of the brass asserted that it was he who put a stop to the torture.)
Responding to the remarks by Orujov and other victims, the state prosecutor asserted that the investigation on the Tartar case is still underway. "If in the course of these trials, issues of importance in terms of holding some others accountable are revealed, they will be investigated by the prosecutor's office," he said.
The trials continue. Jafarov, the lawyer, reported that one of the accused admitted at the March 28 hearing that he received orders from top military officials, whom he named.
The victims continue to demand accountability higher up the chain of command. On March 28, a group of them gathered in front of the Prosecutor General's Office to demand a meeting with Prosecutor General Kamran Aliyev, which they did not get.
"I just attended a court trial yesterday, where I too testified, I named everyone who ordered my torture and who tortured me for a month. No one I mentioned in my testimony at the court, and before, to the investigation, were arrested. They are walking free today," another survivor, Ruslan Mammadov, told Radio Azadliq.