Embattled Azeri imam hopes authorities to show common sense
4 Apr 04
The imam of an embattled mosque in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, has
said that his comments as a rights activist on the October
post-election riots might have been the reason for his arrest. Ilqar
Ibrahimoglu was taken into custody in the aftermath of the riots and
was given a conditional sentence and released on 2 April. Ibrahimoglu
said that the authorities’ attempts to turn the Cuma mosque into a
museum were “misunderstanding” and hoped that “common sense and logic
will eventually prevail”. The following is the text of Roya Rafiyeva
report by Azerbaijani newspaper Ekspress on 5 April headlined “Why was
I arrested?” and subheaded “Ilqar Ibrahimoglu still does not know the
reasons”; subheadings inserted editorially:
One of those arrested in the aftermath of the 15-16 October
[post-election] clashes, Ilqar Ibrahimoglu, received a suspended
sentence and was released from custody on 2 April. In addition to
being the imam of the Cuma mosque, he is also the secretary-general of
the Azerbaijani branch of IRLA [International Religious Liberty
Association] and the coordinator of DEVAMM [centre for the protection
of freedom of conscience and religion]. Saying that “I am the only
international expert in the Caucasus to deal with religious freedom”,
Ilqar Ibrahimoglu gave one of his first interviews after being
released to Ekspress.
[Correspondent] You claim that the accusations levelled against you
were unfounded. You are also saying that these accusations have not
[Ibrahimoglu] It would be good to address this question to those who
arrested me illegally and kept me in custody for four months without
any reasons whatsoever. I can tell you quite frankly that I did not
expect to be released yesterday [2 April]. I was prepared to go back
to prison after the trial. It is still unclear to me who was
interested in my arrest and why. I knew there would be a hue and cry
both inside and outside Azerbaijan over my arrest.
[Correspondent] Do you have evidence of what you did on the day of the
[Ibrahimoglu] My role in the events was only that as a human rights
campaigner I monitored the situation for seven to eight minutes before
clashes began on Azadliq Square. I met many journalists there and even
went up to the rostrum. But let me repeat that I had left the square
before the events started and continued the monitoring from the
courtyard of a nearby building together with other human rights
champions, including a representative of the OSCE.
[Correspondent] Was any pressure put on you while you were under
[Ibrahimoglu] On 17 October, I first appealed to local and
international human rights advocates after I saw the first signs of
pressure. I went to the Baku office of the Council of Europe at their
invitation and tried to clarify the issue. I was the guest of the
Norwegian embassy for four days until the issue was cleared up. During
those days a representative of the Interior Ministry told me that
allegedly I was not on the wanted list, that there was some
misunderstanding and that no measures would be taken against me
because I had nothing to do with the events.
On the 22nd, I attended an OSCE Human Rights monitoring conference as
a member of an Azerbaijani delegation, which also included
representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the ombudsman’s office, and a
number of human rights and NGO activists. We officially crossed the
[presumably Georgian] border and there were no problems again. But as
soon as I left Azerbaijan, an extensive “black PR” campaign was
unfolded against me. I was following it through the Internet. The most
frustrating thing of all was that while we were raising the issue of
desecration of a mosque in Susa [Shusha] at the conference, which was
also attended by Armenians, such issues were being brought up against
us in Baku. The Armenians now want to give this mosque to the French
and as an advocate of religious rights I stated there that this was a
violation of international norms and European conventions. As a matter
of fact, a representative of the Foreign Ministry officially thanked
me for defending Azerbaijan’s national interests.
The conference continued till 28 October. Then I observed Georgian
elections until 3 November. And on 3 November, as I had planned, I
returned to Azerbaijan. And no measures were taken against me again.
[Correspondent] But how were you arrested?
[Ibrahimoglu] One TV channel officially announced on 20 November that
Ilqar Ibrahimoglu was in Georgia and that he was wanted by
Interpol. Then I understood that the issue was taking a new
turn. Since there were some blind spots, I talked to lawyer Elton
Quliyev about my defence. Finally, on 28 November I was invited to the
Prosecutor-General’s Office as a witness. On 1 December, I went there
with Elton Quliyev. They asked me different questions about the
October events and about my work as a human rights campaigner. I
thought that it was being done in the interests of the investigation,
therefore, I answered all the questions to the best of my
knowledge. They even allowed me to go to the mosque for the afternoon
But at 1800 they asked me whether I had an identity card of a human
rights advocate. I said I was the head of two human rights
organizations and that there was sufficient information about me on
their web sites. Several hours afterwards they told me that I was
being detained on suspicion, and from that moment I refused to give
any more evidence. This is how the four months passed. I was kept at
the “death section” of the Bayil prison in room No 120. It was not
possible to carry out any religious rituals there.
[Correspondent] Were you held there alone?
[Ibrahimoglu] No, there were four of us. Sometimes they were replaced
by others. They were all post-election prisoners. In the old days
death row inmates used to be kept in this section of the prison.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the prisoners. The
press was of vital importance to us there. That was our only source of
information. Naturally, we were also receiving Ekspress newspaper.
[Correspondent] When you came out of the dock you said you would fight
for rehabilitation. But so far none of the October prisoners has been
[Ibrahimoglu] According to my information, there are appeals
already. We are now part of Europe and there are new legal
opportunities for that. For this reason, I can be rehabilitated using
local and international institutions. I monitored the situation on
Azadliq Square as a human rights campaigner. I am not supposed to
prove that I am not a camel. There is a presumption of innocence.
Attacks on Cuma mosque misunderstanding
[Correspondent] Why do you think you were arrested?
[Ibrahimoglu] I think my comments as a rights activist may have been
the reason for my arrest. But I am saying quite candidly that not
everything is clear to me.
[Correspondent] After your arrest the Cuma mosque came under attacks.
[Ibrahimoglu] I still cannot understand who needed that and why. Since
2003, there have been quite a few attacks on the organizations of
which I am a member and the Cuma mosque is the latest of them.
The community is registered and its registration has not been
repealed. In 2001 we submitted documents to the Justice Ministry for
renewing our registration. There are no problems with the community as
it has always functioned in accordance with Azerbaijani laws and
international norms. I also think it is absurd to turn the mosque into
a museum. I think there was some misunderstanding and I hope common
sense and logic will eventually prevail.