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Azerbaijani court acquits NIDA activists

19 November 2021
Uzeyir Mammadli (left), Rashadat Akhundov (centre), and Rashad Hasanov (right). Photo: Ismi Aghayev/OC Media.

The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan has acquitted four members of NIDA, an Azerbaijani pro-democracy movement, overruling a 2014 conviction on drugs and weapons charges.

The four were arrested in the spring of 2013 after organising protests against non-combat deaths in the military. They were sentenced to between seven and eight years in prison by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes on 6 May 2014.

Rashadat Akhundov, Rashad Hasanov, Zaur Gurbanli, and Uzeyir Mammadli were already free following presidential pardons in 2015 and 2016. However, the ruling on 19 November is an official acknowledgement of their innocence.

The court also awarded the four a total of ₼188,000 ($110,000) in compensation between them.

Akhundov told OC Media that it was ‘important that justice was done.’

‘Of course, the decision was overdue, and we will consult with our lawyers again about the amount of the compensation’, he added

Akhundov also paid tribute to Elton Guliyev, a lawyer who passed away in 2015 after defending them upon their arrest. ‘We respect his spirit’, he said.

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All four had already won a case against the government in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2018 that their arrest ‘was to silence and punish them for their active involvement in NIDA.’

Asabali Mustafayev, a lawyer for NIDA, wrote on Facebook that it was ‘commendable that this time the government considered the case without engaging in a long-term dispute with the Council of Europe.’

‘I believe that this decision gives hope for deepening changes in the legal system in the country’, he said, adding that it could lead to future rulings where the right to a fair trial had been violated.

‘I congratulate the former convicts and their lawyers on this decision.’

Pending cases against NIDA members

The four who were acquitted on Friday were convicted in 2014 along with three other members of NIDA.

Ilkin Rustamzade, Shahin Novruzlu, and Mammad Azizov were arrested in April 2013 and charged with hooliganism, for recording a satirical anti-government ‘Harlem Shake’ video in Baku.

A still from NIDA’s Harlem Shake video.

Their cases are still being heard by the Azerbaijani Supreme Court.

The European Court has ruled that the pre-trial detention of Rustamzade, Novruzlu, and Azizov was unlawful, while cases related to their prosecution are still pending in Strasbourg.

Novruzlu and Azizov were released in presidential pardons in 2016, while Rustamzade was not pardoned until 2019, after serving six years behind bars.