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Ilgar MammadovAzerbaijan

Ilgar Mammadov, 44, is an Azerbaijani opposition leader who was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of organizing mass disorder and resisting arrest after he criticized the government’s handling of demonstrations and unrest in the countryside.

Before his arrest on February 4, 2013, Mr. Mammadov was the chairman of the Republican Alternative (REAL) opposition party and director of the Baku School for Political Studies – part of a network of schools affiliated with the Council of Europe. Mr. Mammadov, who was also an active blogger, was a well-known critic of the government, and had indicated that he intended to run in the 2013 presidential elections.

On January 23, 2013, residents of the Ismayilli region rioted when the son of the Minister of Labor and Social Protection, who was also the nephew of a high-ranking local official, assaulted residents after being involved in a car accident. Some reports accused the local authorities of excessive force in responding to the unrest and Mr. Mammadov traveled to the region the next day to obtain a firsthand account of the events there.

After spending roughly two hours speaking with local residents, Mr. Mammadov returned to Baku and wrote about the experience online – noting that the protests were in fact violent but placing ultimate responsibility for the unrest on the authorities. He also contradicted some of the government’s official claims about the individuals involved in the incident that sparked the violence.

On January 29, 2013, the Prosecutor General and the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a joint statement accusing Mr. Mammadov and a colleague of traveling to Ismayilli to urge residents to resist the police and block roads – a claim Mr. Mammadov denied on his blog. On February 3, 2013, the government placed Mr. Mammadov under arrest and filed charges under Criminal Code Articles 233 (organizing or participating in a breach of public order) and 315.2 (resisting arrest); it would later add charges under Article 220.1 (mass disorder). Although the prosecution claimed that pretrial detention was required because of the nature of the charges and its belief that Mr. Mammadov would abscond, it failed to provide any case file or evidence to support the charges against him; despite this, the government held Mr. Mammadov in pretrial detention for over nine months.

The trial, which began on November 18, 2013, was rife with procedural irregularities – including contradictory or recanted testimony, evidence not subject to cross examination, and the exclusion of exculpatory evidence.  On March 17, 2014, the Sheki Court of Serious Crimes convicted Mr. Mammadov and sentenced him to seven years in prison.

In response to an application by Mr. Mammadov, the European Court of Human Rights held that the extended pretrial detention of Mr. Mammadov, without any supporting evidence against him, violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The tribunal also held that the actual purpose of the prosecution was to punish Mr. Mammadov for his critical writing.