"The appeal of Vagif Khachatryan’s sentence is a formality" – Opinion of a human rights defender

Dec 1 2023
  • JAMnews
  • Yerevan

“The formal actions mean to create an impression that there are internal protection measures in Azerbaijan and that these mechanisms are effective,” human rights activist and international law specialist Siranush Sahakyan said about the appeal of Vagif Khachatryan’s sentence.

According to her, the real purpose of the appeal submitted to the court is not to restore justice or eliminate judicial errors against the Armenian detained in Azerbaijani prison. During the discussion on “Possible return of prisoners: International Law and Justice”, the human rights activist emphasized that this step should be considered “a mere formality”.

Vagif Khachatryan was a resident of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani services detained him on July 29, 2023 at the checkpoint near the Hakari Bridge. Through the mediation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, he was on his way to Yerevan for urgent heart surgery.

Baku accuses Khachatryan of “an attack on the village of Meshali in December 1991 that killed civilians.” He is declared a member of a “criminal group that committed genocide”. Vagif Khachatryan did not admit guilt during the trial. However, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Recently, Azerbaijani media reported that his lawyer, Radmila Abilova, appealed the sentence.

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According to the human rights activist, in other trials of Armenian prisoners of war in Azerbaijan, there were also cases in which lawyers appealed court decisions — to no avail.

Siranush Sahakyan does not expect the appeal submitted in Khachatryan’s case to be effective.

“The main goal is to generate evidence for the processes that are going on in international courts, to organize the protection of Azerbaijan’s interests in international instances,” she said of Baku’s motive.

Sahakyan is convinced that all Armenian captives will face “illegal trials” in order to “protect the Aliyev regime” and put pressure on the Armenian authorities.

“International humanitarian law clearly defines – after the cessation of active conflict, the captives must be immediately released. There is international criminal law, which qualifies the non-fulfillment of the clause on the immediate release of captives as a war crime. If Azerbaijan does not create legal grounds for their detention on these fabricated cases, the accusations of war crimes will intensify.”

According to the human rights activist, Baku is trying to justify the detention of prisoners in Azerbaijan by judicial processes or the circumstance of serving a sentence, creating an impression that their detention is “allegedly legal and objective”.

As an example, she recalls the case of “another resident of Nagorno-Karabakh, Rashid Beglaryan, abducted by the Azerbaijanis”. She says first the Azerbaijani side accused him of illegal border crossing and then of committing “genocide in Khojaly”. She says this proves that Baku had no factual data against him at the time of his arrest:

“Azerbaijanis studied Rashid Beglaryan’s data and taking into account his age, place of residence and other factors considered him a suitable candidate to substantiate their genocide hypothesis.”

Sahakyan said that Baku has so far officially confirmed the detention of 55 Armenian prisoners of war:

“We are talking not only about prisoners of war, but also about civilians and politically persecuted persons. Now in Baku there are 6 civilians, 41 prisoners of war and 8 high-ranking former political and military figures who are considered political prisoners.”

According to the human rights activist, Azerbaijan continues to hold at least 80 Armenian prisoners of war without officially confirmation.

The international law specialist considers it crucial to examine the circumstance of possible psychological torture.

“During all this time, no representatives of any independent mechanisms for the prevention of torture could have contact with the captives,” Sahakyan said.

She believes the visits of Red Cross representatives to be insufficent and, in any case, “belated”.

She believes that the participation of independent lawyers in trials could play a role in preventing torture.

Sahakyan also stated that all returned prisoners of war and civilians testified about ill-treatment and torture against themselves:

“There are no mechanisms to prevent torture in Azerbaijan, and in conditions where there is no international control, these individuals are subjected to various manifestations of ill-treatment. Depending on the developments, in some cases there may be episodes of torture, in other cases inhuman treatment and humiliation prevail.”