We have the honour to address you in our capacities as Special Rapporteur on
the situation of human rights defenders; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention;
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion
and expression; Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and
of association and Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the
highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, pursuant to Human Rights
Council resolutions 52/4, 51/8, 52/9, 50/17 and 51/21.
In this connection, we would like to bring to the attention of your Excellency’s
Government information we have received concerning the alleged harassment and
arbitrary detention of human rights defender Dr. Gubad Ibadoghlu and his wife in
According to the information received:
Dr. Gubad Ibadoghlu has allegedly been under surveillance by the Government
of Azerbaijan since 2013, after Azerbaijan joined the Extractive Industries
Transparency Initiative (EITI) and a broad NGO Coalition was formed inside
the country to take part in consultations on the generation and distribution of oil
and gas revenues. In 2013 and 2014, the government made several amendments
to legislation relating to NGOs. In total, 26 such changes were made, including
some which tightened regulations around registration and foreign funding. In
the summer of 2014, a wave of arrests of human rights defenders, based on
charges including tax evasion and illegal drug possession, swept the country.
Among those human rights defenders who were allegedly targeted by the
government were members of independent groups working to promote
transparency of public revenues in Azerbaijan.
In June 2014, the business account of the Economic Research Center (ERC) and
the personal bank account of Dr. Ibadoghlu were both frozen, and Dr. Ibadoghlu
was summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office for questioning as a witness
in a case against a number of local and foreign NGOs. According to the
information received, the government allegedly withdrew 85005 manat
(US $5000) from the ERC’s organizational bank account, which has still not
On 12 May 2015, the offices of the ERC were searched by staff of the
prosecutor's office. Financial documents and accounting records of the Centre,
PALAIS DES NATIONS • 1211 GENEVA 10, SWITZERLAND
the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI Coalition), and the
National Budget Group were seized.,
A criminal case against Dr. Ibadoghlu was opened in 2015 and remains ongoing.
Dr. Ibadoghlu was charged with abuse of power, tax evasion, and illegal
business. The activity of the ERC between 2010 and 2015 was claimed to be
illegal because the organization failed to pay Value Added Tax (VAT), although
civil society organizations are exempt from paying VAT in Azerbaijan.
Approximately 20 other organizations were also included in the criminal case.
Dr. Ibadoghlu was then allegedly subject to a smear campaign where several
newspapers and online resources published potentially defamatory articles
alleging that he is a foreign agent.
In June 2018, Dr. Ibadoghlu lost his teaching position at the Azerbaijan State
University of Economics, allegedly as a direct result of his work as a human
On 23 July 2023, Dr. Ibadoghlu was traveling by car in Baku when he was
stopped and surrounded by vehicles, forcibly removed from his car by more than
20 individuals claiming to be government officials and beaten. Dr. Ibadoghlu
was charged with manufacturing and selling counterfeit money as part of an
organized group. He was initially taken to the Main Directorate for Combating
Organized Crime (MDCOC) in Baku.
Dr. Ibadoghlu is reportedly being held in the Kurdekhani pretrial detention
center outside of Baku. Family members were unsuccessful in delivering
toiletries, clothing, and other necessities to him on 25 July. In an initial court
decision in late July, Dr. Ibadoghlu was sentenced to 3 months and 26 days of
“preventive detention” while the investigation is ongoing. Dr. Ibadoghlu has
been able to meet with family members once since his imprisonment.
Dr. Ibadoghlu is reportedly being detained with five other detainees in a cell that
measures less than 20 square meters.
According to the information received Dr. Ibadoghlu’s health, already fragile
due to diabetes and high blood pressure, is at immediate risk as he has been
denied regular access to critical medication. He has also allegedly been denied
regular access to clean drinking water and has developed additional health
Gubad Ibadoghlu's lawyer has filed numerous unsuccessful appeals against the
decision by the court to detain him until his court date and has also been denied
requests for Dr. Ibadoghlu to be placed under house arrest rather than in prison.
The eyesight in Dr. Ibadoghlu’s left eye has deteriorated significantly since his
arrest. He already had a condition in his right eye causing blurry vision.
Without prejudging the accuracy of the above allegations, we wish to express
our serious concern in response to the arrest of Dr. Gubad Ibadoghlu, which appears to
be linked to his legitimate human rights work on promoting transparency and
democratic control of the gas and oil industries.
We are further concerned at what seems to be a pattern of harassment against
human rights defenders, including frequent detentions, harassment, interrogations,
restrictions on receiving grants, searches and confiscations, and travel bans of human
rights activists working in the field of transparency in the extractive industries.
The detention of human rights defenders is of serious concern. We also note that
human rights defenders with pre-existing health conditions are at increased risk of
serious illness in detention if not properly treated; this may violate their rights to life
and to health. We regret that other alternatives, such as house arrest, were not assessed
for Dr.Ibadoghlu’s case.
We remind your Excellency’s Government that the criminalization of the
legitimate defense of the human rights of others and exercising the right to freedom of
opinion and expression would be incompatible with international human rights law.
In connection with the above alleged facts and concerns, please refer to the
Annex on Reference to international human rights law attached to this letter which
cites international human rights instruments and standards relevant to these allegations.
We are issuing this appeal in order to safeguard the rights of the abovementioned individuals from irreparable harm and without prejudicing any eventual
As it is our responsibility, under the mandates provided to us by the Human
Rights Council, to seek to clarify all cases brought to our attention, we would be grateful
for your observations on the following matters:
1. Please provide any additional information and/or comment(s) you may
have on the above-mentioned allegations.
2. Please provide detailed information on the factual and legal bases for the
detention of Dr. Ibadoghlu in July 2023, and explain how these actions
comply with Azerbaijan’s obligations under International Human Rights
3. Please explain why other alternative measures, such as house arrest,
were not considered in case of Dr. Ibadoghlu, giving attention to his
deteriorating health condition.
4. Please provide information about the current health condition of
Dr. Ibadoglu in pre-trial detention. Please also provide information
about the measures taken to ensure his physical integrity and appropriate
access to continuous health care.
5. Please indicate what measures have been taken to ensure individuals,
including civil society leaders and human rights defenders, can exercise
their right to freedom of association and freedom of expression, free
from intimidation or persecution, and in line with international human
We would appreciate receiving a response within 60 days. Past this delay, this
communication and any response received from your Excellency’s Government will be
made public via the communications reporting website. They will also subsequently be
made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.
Further, we would like to inform your Excellency’s Government that after
having transmitted the information contained in the present communication to the
Government, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention may also transmit the case
through its regular procedure in order to render an opinion on whether the deprivation
of liberty was arbitrary or not. The present communication in no way prejudges any
opinion the Working Group may render. The Government is required to respond
separately to the allegation letter and the regular procedure.
While awaiting a reply, we urge that all necessary interim measures be taken to
halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the
investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the
accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration.
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
Vice-Chair on communications of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion
Clement Nyaletsossi Voule
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable
standard of physical and mental health
Reference to international human rights law
In connection with above alleged facts and concerns, we would like to draw the
attention of your Excellency’s Government to the following human rights standards.
We recall article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR), acceded to by Azerbaijan on 13 August 1992, which provides, that “Everyone
has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary
arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and
in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.” Furthermore, we recall
that a deprivation of liberty may be arbitrary when it results from the peaceful exercise
of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by articles 12, 18, 19, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 of the
We would like to recall that article 19 of the ICCPR guarantees the right to
opinion and expression. In the general comment 34, the Human Rights Committee
stated that States parties to the ICCPR are required to guarantee the right to freedom of
opinion and expression, including inter alia ‘political discourse, commentary on one’s
own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism’, subject
only to admissible restrictions as well as the prohibition of propaganda for hatred and
incitement to hatred, violence and discrimination.
Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be compatible with the
requirements set out in article 19 (3), that is, they must be provided by law, pursue a
legitimate aim, and be necessary and proportionate. The State has the burden of proof
to demonstrate that any such restrictions are compatible with the Covenant. An attack
on a person because of the exercise of his or her freedom of opinion or expression,
including arbitrary arrest, torture, threats to life and killing, cannot be compatible with
article 19. (GC34 paragraph 23)
We also remind Your Excellency’s Government that article 22 of the ICCPR
protects the right to freedom of association, including the rights of everyone to associate
with others and to pursue common interests. Freedom of association is closely linked
to the rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly and is of fundamental
importance to the functioning of democratic societies. These rights can only be
restricted in very specific circumstances, where the restrictions serve a legitimate public
purpose as recognized by international standards and are necessary and proportionate
for achieving that purpose.
We would also like to refer to article 9.3 ICCPR which states, among others,
that it shall not be a general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.
The Human Rights Committee in its general comment 35, has interpreted that it should
not be the general practice to subject defendants to pretrial detention. Detention pending
trial must be based on an individualized determination that it is reasonable and
necessary taking into account all the circumstances, for such purposes as to prevent
flight, interference with evidence or the recurrence of crime (para. 38). According to
the same general comment (paragraph 17) and the jurisprudence of the Working Group
on Arbitrary Detention, arrest or detention of an individual as punishment for the
legitimate exercise of the rights guaranteed by the ICCPR, including freedom of opinion
and expression, is arbitrary. Further, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has
reiterated that a deprivation of liberty is arbitrary when it constitutes a violation of
international law on the grounds of discrimination based on birth, national, ethnic or
social origin, language, religion, economic condition, political or other opinion, gender,
sexual orientation, disability, or any other status, that aims towards or can result in
ignoring the equality of human beings. In this respect, the Working Group on Arbitrary
Detention has concluded that being a human rights defender is a protected status under
article 26 of the ICCPR.
We would like to further refer to ICCPR article 6 that protects the right to life.
The Human Rights Committee, in its general comment No. 36 (CCPR/C/GC/36)
establishes that this right concerns the entitlement to be free from acts and omissions
that are intended or may be expected to cause unnatural or premature death, as well as
to enjoy a life with dignity. This applies to all without any distinction, including persons
suspected or convicted for crimes (para. 3). Accordingly, States have the duty of care
to take any necessary measures to protect the lives of individuals deprived of their
liberty, including providing them with the necessary medical care and the appropriate
regular monitoring of their health (para. 25). States have the responsibility to take
appropriate measures to address conditions, such as the prevalence of threatening
diseases, that may directly threat life or prevent individuals from enjoying their right to
life with dignity.
In this connection, we would like to recall your Excellency’s Government’s
obligations under article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and
Cultural Rights, which Azerbaijan acceded to on 13 August 1992. Article 12 protects
the right to health and imposes the obligation on States to refrain from denying or
limiting equal access for all persons, including prisoners or detainees, to health
preventive, curative and palliative services (Committee on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, CESCR, general comment 14, para. 34).
Further, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
(“Mandela Rules”), adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly
(A/RES/70/175), establish States’ responsibility to provide healthcare for prisoners
(rules 24 to 35); to evaluate, promote and protect the physical health of detainees,
paying particular attention to prisoners with special health-care needs (rule 25(1)), and
ensure continuity of treatment and care (rule 24.2), as well as prompt access to medical
attention in urgent cases and to specialized treatment where needed (rule 27.1).
We would like to also refer your Excellency’s Government to the fundamental
principles set forth in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals,
Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, also known as the UN Declaration on Human
Rights Defenders. In particular, we would like to refer to articles 1 and 2 of the
Declaration which state that everyone has the right to promote and to strive for the
protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national
and international levels and that each State has a prime responsibility and duty to
protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Furthermore, we would also like to recall the following articles: - article 5 (a)
which establishes that for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and
fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with
others, at the national and international levels: to meet or assemble peacefully; -
article 6 (b) and c) which provide for the right to freely publish, impart or disseminate
to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental
freedoms; and to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law
and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and to draw public
attention to those matters; - article 8, paragraph 1, which stipulates that everyone has
the right, individually and in association with others, to have effective access, on a nondiscriminatory basis, to participation in the government of his or her country and in the
conduct of public affairs.
We would like to recall that during his visit to Azerbaijan in 2016
(A/HRC/34/52/Add.3), the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights
Defenders noted that there are no specific policies or mechanisms to protect human
rights defenders from attacks, threats or harassment. He expressed concerns at the way
NGOs and human rights activism in general are projected, which leads to the
delegitimization of critical views and voices. On this occasion, the Special Rapporteur
recommended that the Government consider adopting national guidelines on the
protection and promotion of human rights defenders, followed by a concrete action plan
to strengthen the environment in which they operate (para. 97).