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Azerbaijani rights lawyer Shahla Humbatova disbarred

5 March 2021
Shahla Humbatova. Photo: US State Department.

A court in Azerbaijan has approved the disbarment of Shahla Humbatova, one of the last remaining human rights lawyers in the country.

On Friday, the Baku Administrative Court upheld a claim by the Bar Association to terminate Humbatova's membership.

According to Bar Association, Humbatova was dismissed for having not paid her membership fee for more than 6 months, owing ₼460 ($270) in fees.

Humbatova told OC Media that she could not attend Friday’s hearing due to ill health.

She said she planned to appeal the decision but did not expect a positive result, and that she would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

Speaking with OC Media in early February, Humbatova insisted the accusations were politically motivated.

She confirmed that she had owed eight months of membership fees, but insisted the association did not make any effort to notify her of this. ‘I learned about this from the media the day after the Board’s decision [to take me to court]’, she said. 

Humbatova said that she immediately made the payment, so when the Bar went to court with her disbarment request there was no longer any debt.

Humbatova was one of 12 recipients globally of the US State Department’s 2020 International Women of Courage award ‘for her outstanding work and her courage in the face of harassment and threats’.

Humbatova is well known in Azerbaijan for taking on high-profile human rights cases, including those of queer Azerbaijanis as well as blogger Mehman Huseynov. The move to disbar her follows the disbarment of dozens of other human rights lawyers in recent years, leaving few remaining lawyers taking on such cases.

‘Systemic and targeted pressure’ 

Zibeyda Sadigova is one of the last remaining lawyers working on political human rights cases in Azerbaijan and submitting them to the European Human Rights Court. 

Sadigova told OC Media in February that disbarment proceedings against Humbatova were part of ‘systemic and targeted pressure’ against lawyers who were working on human rights cases.

Sadigova said she knew many lawyers who had not paid membership fees and yet remained in the association.

Sadigova said that beyond pressure on existing human rights lawyers, there was a clear pattern of the Bar Association giving young lawyers applying to the bar who had shown an interest in human rights cases failing grades in their oral examinations.

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