Freedom abroad, fear at home: Azerbaijani human rights lawyer detained for 30 days
For Emin Aslan, going back to his native Azerbaijan after completing his studies in the US meant seeing his friends, and marrying his fiancée.
As a human rights lawyer, he worried that he might be detained once in Azerbaijan. Prior to leaving the country, he had worked with local non-government organizations and had prepared multiple complaints brought before the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Azerbaijani citizens.
But after answering a few questions from authorities, he crossed the border and passed through customs. There was less to fear. Or so he thought.
Then everything changed. For me, it began with a message on my phone’s screen: “Emin Aslan detained”. It took me a minute to process this news about my friend. I had just spoken with Emin’s fiancée two days before and we had made plans to see one another in the coming months. How could it be? The news started circulating online just a few minutes later.
Lawyer Emin Aslan was taken in an unknown direction by plainclothed men today in Baku. There is no information on his whereabouts.
For more than twelve hours, Emin Aslan’s whereabouts were unknown. Family members called one police station after another, only to be told that police did not know where Emin was being held. But as his friends and allies began to put the pieces together, the answer became clear.
Acclaimed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was once a client of Emin’s, wrote on Facebook:
Another human rights defender is arrested today.
Emin Aslan is a lawyer. He represented me in several Freedom of İnformation litigations and libel cases when he was one of the lawyers of Media Rights Institute. Three days ago he completed his studies in Syracuse university and came to Azerbaijan.
He is engaged and was planning to marry. Today, he was kidnapped in front of his fiancee, forced to the car and taken in unknown direction. The car, that he was forced to belongs to Mehman Teymurov – officer of Bandotdel – Anti Organized Crime Unit of Interior Ministry – the unit that is notorious for tortures.
Emin Aslan is a human rights defender and he was also mentioned in the famous NGO case which caused arrest of Intigam Aliyev, Anar Mammadli, Rasul Jafarov and myself in 2013-2014. Possible arrest was the reason why he left the country. He thought it might be safe now. No it isn’t.
Ismayilova further posted about the car that was seen taking Emin away:
The car license plate (number 90 XG 017) that reportedly took Emin Aslan belongs to Mehman Teymurov. The man by the same name worked as an employee of the Department to Combat Drugs. Later, the same name, appeared in Nardaran case as an employee of the Department for Combating Organized Crime [aka Bandotdel]. This means Emin Aslan is kept at “Bandotdel”.
The next day, on June 5, the Department for Combating Organized Crime confirmed it was holding Emin.
Human rights defender Anar Mammadli posted on Facebook:
The Department for Combating Organized Crime confirmed with lawyer Elchin Sadigov that Emin Aslan is being held there. However, the lawyer was not allowed to see him.
On June 5, a local court sentenced Emin to 30 days in administrative detention on charges of disobeying the police. The real reasons for his detention are still unknown, leaving his friends and family puzzled.
Although he will remain in police custody for the next 30 days, the sentence of administrative detention (in contrast to pre-trial detention) has left his family with some hope that he will be released thereafter.
Writing on her Facebook, his fiance, Nura, wrote:
Right now, Emin and I were supposed to deal with marriage/visa paperwork but instead I am preparing a bag for him to take with me to the detention center. This is shameful and disgusting. They have stolen 30 days from our lives and yet we are celebrating. What is 30 days anyway, it will pass by in an instance but this stress will always stay with me. Despite everything we are strong, there is no other way.
Emin is a recent graduate of Syracuse University College of Law, in the US, where he completed a LLM degree. After completing his studies, he returned back to his native Azerbaijan on May 30. Four days later, he was abducted.
Prior to leaving for his studies, Emin worked in Tbilisi, Georgia with Human Rights House Tbilisi office. On Facebook, Emin’s former colleagues expressed concern about his disappearance and alleged abduction.
Similarly, the Eastern European Center for Multiparty Democracy issued the following statement:
We have learned today that Mr. Emin Aslan, our former colleague, has been kidnapped in Baku by the unidentified individuals. We are very concerned with his fate in the face of widespread kidnappings and mistreatment of journalists, human rights activists and pro-democracy leaders in Azerbaijan.
While Emin was held incommunicado, his Facebook account — which had been deactivated for months — suddenly became active. His phone also appeared to be in use, even though since his return to Azerbaijan, Emin had not used his phone.
Emin’s arrest is one of multiple recent government attempts to persecute the remaining voices of Azerbaijan’s civil society. Scores of opposition party members have been rounded up and held on bogus charges. And while many more questions remain unanswered in Emin’s case, this illustration by exiled Azerbaijani cartoonist sums it all well.