Journalists in Azerbaijan have published photographs depicting what they claim is the torture of detainees in a police station in Baku.
Several of the photographs published on Tuesday picture men stripped naked and lying on the ground.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs has denied the allegations, claiming the photographs were not taken in Azerbaijan.
The pictures were first shared by prominent journalist in-exile Ganimat Zahid, the editor of the opposition Azadliq newspaper and YouTube channel Azerbaycan Saati (‘Azerbaijan’s hour’), and soon reposted by Azadliq.
Habib Muntazir, a journalist from Meydan TV, reported that they were taken in the Nasimi District Police Department of the Main Department for Combating Organised Crime, also known as ‘Bandotdel’.
The department has previously faced accusations of severely torturing detainees.
The photos of the detainees were accompanied by one of a man standing in front of a car, who Zahid claimed was responsible for the torture.
Muntazir later identified the man as Elnur Gasimov, who he said was a resident of the southern city of Lankaran who had ‘collaborated with law enforcement agencies in Baku’. He said that the car in the photo had government issue number plates.
The identities of the alleged detainees in the pictures have not yet been established. Some of them are seen wearing warm clothes which could suggest the pictures were not taken in recent months.
‘The flag was deliberately placed there’
In one of the pictures, an Azerbaijani flag and the emblem of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are visible.
Chief Interior Ministry Spokesperson Ehsan Zahidov denied on Tuesday evening that the pictures were taken in Azerbaijan.
‘It turned out that these photos were deliberately shared in a pre-planned manner in order to overshadow the activities of Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies’, Zahidov told news agency APA.
‘None of the people in these photos are citizens of Azerbaijan, and the images were not taken in our country. These photos were taken outside of Azerbaijan.’
‘As for the Azerbaijani flag in the photos, I can say that it was deliberately placed there’, he said.
Zahidov also denied that the person in front of the car in one of the pictures worked for any law enforcement agency.
‘An investigation has been conducted into that person. It turned out that although this person is an Azerbaijani citizen, he does not work in law enforcement agencies at all. He lives in one district and has nothing to do with law enforcement agencies’, he concluded.
The Chief Prosecutor’s Office also denied that the pictures were taken in Azerbaijan on Wednesday, stating that the people in the pictures ‘were not involved in any investigation as witnesses, suspects, and neither were they the accused or had any other status, and no investigation was conducted in the Investigation Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office connected to them’.
Muntazir presented several pieces of evidence on Facebook in response to the Interior Ministry statement showing the similarity in the interior and clothing in the pictures with those of Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies.
‘Such facts of tortures no longer surprise anyone in Azerbaijan’
Namizad Safarov, a coordinator at local rights group the Committee Against Repression and Torture, told OC Media that such allegations of torture were not new for Azerbaijan.
‘The ministry denied that the photos were taken in the offices and departments of the Interior Ministry […] That is, they excluded the possibility that people are being tortured in these ways’.
Safarov said the ministry’s statement was met with ‘ridicule and strong objections from independent media and the public.’
‘Such facts no longer surprise anyone in Azerbaijani society’.
‘Torture of citizens by the structures of the Ministry of Internal Affairs during their detention, arrest, and the investigation process in a way that degrades a person’s identity and damages their honour and dignity has become a common practice’, he said.
Safarov also speculated that the photos could have been spread deliberately by the authorities as a form of intimidation.
He said the Committee Against Repression and Torture had received numerous reports of deaths as a result of torture by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
‘However, every time the government denies these facts and closes the cases. No cases of death or cruel torture have been investigated’, he said.
Safarov also brought up the Terter case as an example of torture within the Interior Ministry, where he said eight servicemen were tortured to death during an investigation.
‘These facts were confirmed by the court. And today the Interior Ministry claims that such cases could not happen’, he concluded.
The latest photos emerged amidst numerous reports of torture of detainees arrested during the 14–15 July rally in support of Azerbaijani army.
[Read more on OC Media: Thousands of pro-war protesters rally in Azerbaijan]
International rights groups including Amnesty International, several EU Parliamentarians, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have all condemned a recent government crackdown against the opposition.