As a war erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia as a result of separatist developments in Nagorno-Karabakh beginning from 1988 and the collapse of theSoviet Union in the early 1990s, Special Purpose Police Detachment (SPPD) took part in military operations under the leadership of Rovshan Javadov, the commander of this group.
Former Special Police Detachment
Following the initial battles in the war, Javadov rose to the rank of colonel, and his unit was named as “Special Purpose Police Detachment” (SPPD). In 1991, several SPPD members were awarded the title of “National Hero” for their heroism in the war. In 1993, Javadov was appointed by former President Heydar Aliyev (father of current President Ilham Aliyev) as the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs for his immense role in bringing him to power. SPPD remained under the control of the Ministry. Elchin Amiraslanov, who is on this list, was appointed the Commander of the Gazakh branch of the SPPD.
However, a while later, serious discrepancies emerged between Javadov and Heydar Aliyev, and gradually escalated. In January 1995, Amiraslanov and members of SPPD Gazakh stopped the smuggling of oil from the Shikli village of the Gazakh region to Armenian territory. They handed over 22 tankers to the Gazakh Regional Police Department. Amiraslanov made a speech on a state-run television station criticizing the failure to detain those who had attempted to transfer oil to Armenia. Following this, the conflicts between SPPD members and Heydar Aliyev moved to an open fight. On 13 March 1995, there was an attack on the SPPD Gazakh branch resulting in a bloody battle. On 14 March, Minister of Internal Affairs Ramil Usubov (who remains in this position to this day) issued an order to discharge SPPD and take their arms within three days. However, an armed confrontation took place between interior troops and SPPD members on the night of 16 March near the SPPD office in Baku. As a result, Rovshan Javadov died in the hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs due to the heavy wounds he sustained.
This incident was followed by countrywide crackdown on SPPD members. The arrested and later imprisoned SPPD members were charged with revolting, in addition to committing murders over a number of years. Imprisoned SPPD members either passed away in custody or were released from prison under pardon decrees in the following years, as political or presumed political prisoners. The last pardon decree resulted in the release of former SPPD member Shamsi Abdullayev in December 2012. Nonetheless, there are still several SPPD members in prison.
According to the charges brought against the prisoners, Safa Poladov and Arif Kazimov killed the police chief of the Gazakh region, and the chief of the MNS department for Gazakh-Agstafa in the “Akasiya” restaurant located in the Gazakh region on the instructions of Elchin Amiraslanov. Although all three prisoners were charged with high treason and sentenced to the death penalty, the merits of this charge were not proven by the investigation or the court. Amiraslanov was also charged with participating in the murder of Special Office Chief Shamsi Rahimov, and Deputy Head of the National Assembly Afiyaddin Jalilov.
The charge related to the incident in the Gazakh region was not proven in the trial. The relatives of the deceased persons stated that they had no complaints against the prisoners and said that these persons had not killed their relative. They said that the deceased persons had been killed in connection with the investigation into the transfer of oil to Armenia.
Nonetheless, Amiraslanov, Kazimov, and Poladov were sentenced to the death penalty by the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan on 28 November 1997, based on the Criminal Code approved under the 8 December 1960 law of the Azerbaijan SSR. At the time, the law did not allow for appealing against the decision. Amiraslanov was sentenced to 15 years loss of liberty under 22 September 2000 decision of the Supreme Court. However, the same decision upheld his previous sentence of lifetime imprisonment (his initial sentence of the death penalty was changed to lifetime imprisonment).
In interviews and articles published by media in 2010 and 2011, former MNS officer Ramin Nagiyev, who now lives abroad in political asylum, stated that the murders, which were claimed to have been committed by SPPD members, were actually committed by former Head Operation Officer of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Main Criminal Search Office Haji Mammadov, who was arrested in 2005. Nagiyev had been a member of the investigation team looking into the murder of Shamsi Rahimov and Afiyaddin Jalilov, before he was expelled from the investigation in 1995 without any reason given. Nagiyev’s statements have not been officially dismissed.
Life imprisonment Could not have been imposed
On 10 February 1998, the National Assembly (Milli Mejlis) passed a law amending the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Correction-Labour Code, to abolish the death penalty in Azerbaijan. Article 4 of this law says that the punishment of persons sentenced to the death penalty prior to the law taking force, shall be replaced with a sentence of life in prison. In fact, death penalty was replaced with a type of punishment that was not enshrined in any legislative act at the time.
According to Article 147 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan adopted on 12 November 1995, the Constitution has the highest legal power in Azerbaijan. The Constitution has direct legal power and serves as the basis of the country’s legislative system. According to the seventh paragraph of Article 149 of the Constitution, normative- legal acts improving the legal situation of physical persons and legal entities, eliminating or mitigating their legal responsibility, have retrospective effect. Other normative-legal acts have no retrospective power. According to Article 23 of the Criminal Code, under which the SPPD members were charged, when the death penalty was replaced with imprisonment through pardon, the prison sentence could be more than 15 years, but no more than 20 years.
As such, the replacement of the death penalty with sentences of life in prison aggravates the legal situation of the SPPD members in comparison with alternative punishments envisaged in the 8 December 1960 law of the Azerbaijani SSR, under which they were charged. That is, according to the Criminal Code approved under the 8 December 1960 law of Azerbaijani SSR, if the death penalty is annulled in any manner (such as through pardon;
that penalty could be replaced with an imprisonment term for more than 15 years, but not more than 20 years. Thus, the alternative for the death penalty enshrined in the said Code was a term of imprisonment for more than 15 years, but not more than 20 years. So, the death penalty should have been replaced with a maximum sentence of 20 years of imprisonment in 1998.According to paragraph 7 of Article 149 of the Constitution, the National Assembly could not have replaced the death penalty sentence with a sentence of life in prison under the 10 February 1998 law. The reason is that the 10 February 1998 law aggravated the legal state of the prisoners in comparison with what was enshrined in the Criminal Code of 8 December 1960. In addition, the 10 February 1998 law, which replaced the death penalty sentences of the SPPD members with lifetime imprisonment, lost its power on 1 September 2000, when the new Criminal Code took effect. That means that it is illegal to force SPPD members to serve life sentences in prison, as the 10 February 1998 law is not in force.
The Council of Europe considers the three men
On 31 January 2001, a few days after Azerbaijan and Armenia joined the Council of Europe on 25 January; the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe approved the initiative of Secretary General Walter Schwimmer concerning the assignment of three independent experts to investigate a list of 716 presumed political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The Secretary General appointed these experts in February 2001. In July 2001, the experts developed and disseminated a report covering the conclusions of the investigations concerning the presumed political prisoners in Azerbaijan and Armenia. Paragraph 19 of this report contained a list of 23 persons (due to time constraints and a lack of data, only these cases were investigated) who were assessed by the group of experts and determined to be political prisoners or not. Amiraslanov and Kazimov were on this list and were considered to be political prisoners. The Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) adopted Resolution No. 1272 on “Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan” on 24 January 2002. In paragraph 10 of this Resolution, PACE called on the Azerbaijani government to release Amiraslanov and Kazimov, along with the other political prisoners.
Continuing their activity under their new mandate, the independent experts, in their report of 12 May 2003, concluded that Poladov was also a political prisoner. On 27 January 2004, PACE adopted Resolution No. 1359 on “Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan,” and in this document, PACE called for the release of the persons considered to be political prisoners by independent experts. In follow-up to Resolution No. 1359, PACE adopted a report on 31 May 2005. Paragraph 26 of this report stresses that three persons determined to be political prisoners by the independent experts – Amiraslanov, Kazimov, and Poladov – still remained in prison, and expressed concern over this. Documents adopted by PACE in the following years continued to stress that the three men were political prisoners.
A large number of political prisoners, who were not assessed by the independent group of experts, were released from prison in the following years. Although the life sentence of another SPPD member Dayanat Karimov, as well as that of former Prime Minister Surat Huseynov’s cousin Karamat Karimov, was replaced with 25 years in prison under a pardon decree, Amiraslanov, Kazimov, and Poladov did not receive the same treatment.
All three prisoners have applied to the European Court of Human Rights. They have serious health problems. Amiraslanov suffers from epilepsy and has undergone an operation. Kazimov and Poladov have also undergone operations on the head and the waist respectively.