The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Thursday ruled that the Republic of Azerbaijan violated several human rights after convicting an activist and university student of “hooliganism.” The ECHR passed the decision following Ilkin Bakir oglu Rustamzade’s claim that he was arrested and subject to criminal proceedings in contravention of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The ECHR found “no indication, contrary to the domestic courts’ decisions, that demonstrates that the applicant’s impugned conduct constituted ‘a grave breach of public order’ accompanied ‘by the use of, or the threat to use, violence against citizens, as well as by the destruction or damage of others’ property.'” Further, the court failed to provide evidence demonstrating Rustamzade’s involvement in preparation of mass disorder. It also found that the court violated his freedom of expression, which extends to the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas. The ECHR concluded that Rustamzade’s right to a reasoned and fair trial was infringed.
Rustamzade was arrested in April 2013 for his involvement in a demonstration in front of the Azerbaijani State Oil Academy in the capital city of Baku. Several individuals were also arrested following a demonstration that protested the deaths of soldiers in non-combat.
Following his release, Rustamzade was arrested and charged under the national Criminal Code for “hooliganism committed by a group of individuals” and “hooliganism committed by resisting a public official.” The arrest was connected to a video uploaded to YouTube in March 2013 which depicted seven people performing the “Harlem Shake” dance, where one person was dancing suggestively next to a bronze statue. The criminal charge stated that Rustamzade “blatantly breached public order by making a video recording of and repetitive immoral actions… in respect of a bronze statue of an old man… and an intentionally chaotic hand and foot movements.”
The Criminal Code defines “Hooliganism” as “the deliberate actions roughly breaking a social order, expressing obvious disrespect for a society, accompanying with application of violence on citizens or threat of its application, as well as destruction or damage of another’s property.”
In September, Rustamzade was charged with further offences related to the demonstration in March, including preparation of a crime, mass disorder, and “illegal acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transportation and carrying of an arm…by an organised group.” The Baku Court of Serious Crimes convicted Rustamzade, and his appeals were rejected by two appellate courts. In 2019 Rustamzade was released by presidential decree. Rustamzade submitted that he had not committed any criminal offence and the Court had failed to establish the criminal offences.
Azerbaijan has faced international criticism for the ongoing persecution of human rights activists amidst a long history of political dissent and the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan border crisis.