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After one year of inaction, alleged rapist of young Azerbaijani activist arrested

19 October 2021
Feminist activist Gulnara Mehdiyeva holding a sign reading 'Why is a person who raped a minor still free?' Original photo by Sevgi Ismaylbayli.

Azerbaijani authorities have arrested a man accused of raping Sanay Yaghmur, a 17-year-old activist and the daughter of Azerbaijani writer Zumrud Yaghmur. The arrest, over a year after Yaghmur complained to police, came after a viral post by Sanay sparked outrage about the authorities’ inaction.

Asgar Aghayev was arrested on the evening of 19 October while Zumrud Yaghmur was also summoned to the Prosecutor’s Office. 

On 12 October, Sanay Yaghmur, shared a post on social media detailing an alleged rape she suffered the previous year. The post quickly went viral, spawning hashtags and a social media outcry about the apparent miscarriage of justice.

According to Sanay, in August 2020, while visiting an aunt, her cousin, 29-year-old Asgar Aghayev, drugged her drink, then when she fell unconscious, he sexually assaulted her. 

Two days later Sanay and her mother went to the police. Three separate forensic examinations shared by Sanay on Facebook appeared to show that she sustained injuries that were consistent with sexual assault and that DNA evidence pointed to Aghayev as the culprit. 

According to Sanay and her family, despite this physical evidence, and other evidence including testimony, expert opinions, and incriminating audio and visual materials, the Yasamal Prosecutor’s Office has declined to press charges.

New developments in the case only took place after Sanay’s social media post about the alleged assault went viral last week. 

The day after the post was published, Sanay’s mother was summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office, where, she said, Deputy Prosecutor General Mahir Abbasov informed her that the case was being reconsidered.  

‘Prosecutor General Kamran Aliyev has a special order on the issue, the issue will be reconsidered under his direct supervision’, she said she was told. 

Zumrud told OC Media that the year-long inactivity around the case had to do with her and her daughter’s status as opposition activists.  

‘Since my daughter Sanay and I are socio-political figures, the Prosecutor General's Office does not take the issue seriously, prolongs the process unnecessarily, and tries to cover up the case with maximum effort’, she said.

‘Re-traumatisation’ 

On 18 October, in light of the ongoing outrage on social media, the Prosecutor General's Office issued a statement reiterating what was told to Zumrud. The case was now under ‘the supervision of the Prosecutor General's Office’ and ‘the Investigation Department was instructed to continue the investigation’, they said.

Psychologist and feminist activist Narmin Shahmarzadeh told OC Media that beyond the apparent year-long inaction in the case, the authorities also made several other mistakes during the investigation that risked re-traumatising Sanay. 

‘The law stipulates that a victim of a sexual assault must be examined by a person of the same sex’, she said, noting that according to Sanay, two of the doctors who examined her were men. 

Additionally, after the incident became public, the Prosecutor’s Office should have ‘issued a statement that would protect Sanay from attacks and pressure on social media’, Shahmarzadeh said.

Rovshana Rahimli, an independent lawyer based in Baku, told OC Media that considering the seriousness of the allegations, it was ‘questionable’ that the investigation did not take any ‘final action’ toward the alleged perpetrator for over a year. 

‘Experience has shown that Article 149 of the criminal code [rape] is a serious matter for the prosecution’, Rahimli said.

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