The Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (IPA) was founded in 1991 in Baku and registered with the state in 1992. Although the IPA’s registration was revoked in 1995 by the Supreme Court, its activity was not actually banned. Thus, the party is still operating without registration. When Haji Movsum Samadov was elected as the Party Chairman in 2007, the party applied to the Ministry of Justice for registration. The Ministry did not register the party.
The IPA and Samadov stated that the requirements of Islam should be followed in Azerbaijan and that the Azerbaijani government was pursuing an anti-Islamic policy. The party and its chairman also viewed the US and Israel as occupying countries. In an interview with an Iranian radio station in December 2009, Samadov expressed his disappointment regarding the destruction of several mosques in Azerbaijan, and condemned amendments that had been made to laws regulating religious practices. In April 2010, Samadov sent an appeal to President Ilham Aliyev, reminding the President that he had sworn an oath on the Koran as well as the Constitution [after the presidential elections]. In the appeal, Samadov stated that some of President’s actions conflicted with both the constitution and the Koran.
Samadov was detained at a peaceful protest in front of the Israeli Embassy in Baku on International Jerusalem Day. He was later set free. In protest to the articles published in Alma newspaper about Prophet Mohammad in November 2010, the IPA and the Caucasian Muslims Office sent an appeal to the Press Council. Later, the IPA appealed to the National Television and Radio Council stressing the need to remove the licentious television programs from the air. Although the IPA and Samadov stood in the 2010 parliamentary elections, it was no success. IPA activists took part in the first peaceful protests against the hijab (headscarf) ban in schools imposed by the Ministry of Education in December 2010.
At the IPA General Assembly held on 2 January 2011, Samadov made a speech strongly criticizing Minister of Education Misir Mardanov for the hijab ban, and President Aliyev for the social situation in the country. In his speech, Samadov referred to articles from the Washington Post and the New York Times about villas in Dubai reportedly owned by the president and his son, adding that the wealth of the Azerbaijani people and state had been stolen; there were no jobs for Azerbaijani youth despite the country’s great wealth; injustice and bribery ruled in the country; the money spent on the Flower Festival to celebrate the birthday of former President Heydar Aliyev was essentially stolen from the people; and idolatry was promoted in the country by idolizing Heydar Aliyev. Samadov claimed that the Azerbaijani people should be alert on this issue and rise, change the ruling regime and block this oppression. Samadov’s speech went viral on social media networks, particularly on YouTube, leading to broad discussions.
Detention and trial
Five days after this speech was made, on 7 January, Samadov, his deputy Vagif Abdullayev, IPA member Elchin Hasanov, and Samadov’s driver Mirhuseyn Kazimov, were arrested. Employees of the State Traffic Police stopped the car they were travelling in, and several plain-clothed people came out of a black car and took Samadov and those with him. The men were accused of resisting police. After being questioned at Narimanov District Police Station No. 19, they were taken to the Binagadi District Court, where they were given jail sentences of 10-15 days (Samadov was sentenced to fourteen). All except Samadov were taken to the Binagadi Temporary Detention Centre. There was no information about Samadov’s whereabouts for a few days; it was later reported that he was held at the Ministry of National Security.
On the day of Samadov’s arrest, the Ministry of Internal Affairs released a statement saying that the Main Department to Combat Organized Crime carried out operations based on information that Samadov and his cousin from the Guba region Dayanat Samadov gave orders for mass disorders, violation of public order, and Jihad. The statement went on to say that the aforementioned department had found three units of hand grenades in the electrical shop where Dayanat Samadov worked, and seven automatic rifle cartridges in his house. A criminal case was subsequently launched. Another IPA activist, Rufulla Akhundzade, as well as Dayanat Samadov, Movsum Samadov’s brother-in-law Firdovsi Mammadrzayev, and believers who attended the 2 January General Assembly, Faramiz Abbasov and Zulfugar Mikayilzade, were all arrested. Arms and ammunition were reportedly found in their houses. Samadov and the others arrested with him faced charges of calling for the violent seizure of power in the 2 January speech, and other charges. Upon completion of administrative detention, Samadov and the others were sentenced to pre-trial detention.
On 7 October 2011, the Baku Serious Crimes Court sentenced Movsum Samadov and his six co-defendants to terms of imprisonment from 10 to 12 years. Movsum Samadov was given a 12-year sentence and Akhundzade, 11.5 years. Abdullayev and Abbasov were sentenced to 11 years, and Mammadrzayev and Dayanat Samadov to 10 years’ imprisonment. Mikayilzade received an 11- year suspended sentence, with a five-year probationary period. The Baku Court of Appeal upheld the decision on 17 May 2012, followed by the Supreme Court on 21 February 2013.
Observation of the court trials and examination of the final ruling reveals that Samadov had not entered into any criminal relationship in advance with those arrested with him. He prepared the speech he made on 2 January by himself. Deputy IPA Chairman Abdullayev, head of the IPA Astara branch Akhundzade, and religious followers invited to the event Abbasov and Mikayilzade, heard the speech at the event. Unlike what the investigation claimed, Samadov stated that he did not use the word “Jihad” in his speech, and that like other opposition politicians he had criticized the authorities and called on the people to fight for the values they believed in.
The evidence used by the court was based on documents and testimonies provided by law-enforcement agencies. Most of the witnesses who testified against the defendants during the investigation withdrew their testimonies during the trial, stating that they had testified under pressure. However, when issuing a verdict, thecourt attributed the change in testimonies to the influence of third parties. Although the search protocol on the claimed discovery of arms in the shop where Dayanat Samadov worked named Rasim Mukhtar oglu Guloglanov as a search witness, it was later revealed in the court that his real name was Taleh Rasim oglu Piroglanov. Another search witness, Hazrat Aliyev, said that he signed the search protocol in the police department, not at the search venue. He could not explain why he had gone to the police department. Witness Ilham Sharafaddinov, who allegedly heard Dayanat Samadov’s conversation with Mammadrzayev in a mosque in Guba, did not recognize Mammadrzayev at the trial. Another witness who claimed to have heard the same conversation, Natig Mammadov, provided his military service certification to the investigation instead of his identification card.
Although this fact casts questions on the witness’ identification, the court did not pay any attention to this issue. The witness, who claimed to be a religious follower who regularly visited the mosque in Guba, failed to answer even the simplest religious questions regarding the parts of Islamic prayer, and did not know what month Ramadan was.
The case materials contained no evidence proving that Samadov and the others worked against the national interests of the Azerbaijani state or cooperated with Iranian intelligence services or other bodies.
Abdullayev, who had serious health problems, was transferred to prison No. 12, a prison with hard detention conditions. Despite multiple appeals from him and his lawyers regarding his inability to withstand these conditions and deterioration of his health, Abdullayev was not released. Consequently, Abdullayev passed away in the Treatment Facility of the Penitentiary Service in July 2012.
Akhundzade, who has serious health problems, suffered an acute myocardial infarction in May 2013. Multiple appeals stressing the need for his release have been ignored. Because of his health problems, he has repeatedly been transferred to the Treatment Facility of the Penitentiary Service.
The European Court of Human Rights has accepted the application on this case for consideration.
In October 2014, IPA chairman Movsum Samadov was transferred from prison No. 11 to 12, where he was placed in a single cell. On 9 October 2014, Garadagh District Court issued a decision to transfer Movsum Samadov to Gobustan Closed Prison for 2 years. Baku Court of Appeal upheld this decision.