Friday, 7 November 2008

Isakhan Ashurov: "Tough Azerbaijani defense lawyer takes aim at injustice, corruption"

If only we have more people like Isakhan Ashurov... This is an amazing profile of Azeri defence lawyer, a very rare one.

*via RFE/RL

Famous for both his honesty and his short temper, Isakhan Ashurov handles controversial cases that other lawyers either can't -- or won't.

BAKU -- Isakhan Ashurov is one of the most prominent defense lawyers in Azerbaijan, yet he has very few successful cases in his portfolio.

In fact, most of his clients are serving prison terms.

"The number of cases I have lost in Azerbaijani courts is not important to me," Ashurov says, "since I know the verdicts are decided before the cases have been launched."

What matters, he says, is “whether I am able to defeat the propaganda machine of the government and save the reputation of the person [I am defending], who is facing not only a corrupt court but also a mostly government-controlled media, which tries to justify the unfair court decisions. It is much more important to win the process, no matter what the sentence is." […]

Ashurov, 53, routinely receives death threats due to his choice of clients and his willingness to speak out.

A former police chief famous both for his honesty and his short temper, Ashurov has also become known as a critic of corruption in law enforcement, a stance also unlikely to win him many friends.

“Who likes Ashurov?" asks political analyst Hikmet Hajizadeh, director of the pro-democracy FAR Center. "Almost everyone does, except those who have heard from him the truth to their face. He is unlikely to compromise his principles. These days, there is a deficit of these type of people. But if we have too many Ashurovs, the system may collapse." […]

Angered Muslims, 'Betrayed' The Motherland

Ashurov recently took on two controversial, and challenging, cases.

In April 2007, he defended two Azerbaijani journalists, Rafiq Tagi and his editor, Samir Sadagatogulu, who were accused of insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in an article titled "Europe and Us.” An Iranian ayatollah issued a fatwah against him. […]

In another media-freedom case, in May 2007, Ashurov defended Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the Russian-language weekly "Realniy Azerbaijan." Fatullayev was accused of insulting the country's military forces by publishing an interview with an Armenian military officer, who accused Azerbaijani forces of responsibility for a 1992 massacre of hundreds of ethnic Azerbaijani civilians in the settlement of Khojaly during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Fatullayev was found guilty and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.

He was subsequently sentenced by another court to eight years in jail on charges he incited terrorism by noting that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline could be targeted if Iran was attacked by the United States.

"April and May [2007] were difficult," Ashurov recalls. "In one case, I had to face angry Muslims calling me a kafer [infidel] and accusing me of defending kafers. In another, a group of refugees, orchestrated by the government, called me a betrayer of the motherland for defending Eynulla Fatullayev."

A Man Of Integrity

Such insults against Ashurov amuse Chingiz Tanriverdiyev.

Tanriverdiyev served in the Azerbaijani police force for more than 20 years and first met Ashurov in 1978 when Ashurov was a police investigator in the district of Qazax, on the border with Georgia. Tanriverdiyev served under Ashurov when the latter became Qazax police chief in 1992, just as the war over Nagorno-Karabakh was escalating and many villages in the district were coming under fire.

Tanriverdiyev says Ashurov made it clear to his officers that he would not tolerate violence against civilians, regardless of their ethnicity.

"I remember his first conversation with us as police chief in 1992, when he said he wanted us to help restore the image of the police force," Tanriverdiyev says. "After the war started, he said he would punish anyone who harmed Armenian civilians. He would say, 'You fight against those who have arms.' "

Ashurov remembers the case in 1992 when one OMON special police officer brought him a "gift."

“It was a human ear in a cigarette pack," Ashurov says. "I found out that the officer had cut off the ear of an Armenian peasant and had brought the person, with his bleeding head, as a prisoner. He explained that this was the least he could do in return for what Armenian soldiers had done to Azerbaijani villagers. That was awful.

"I apologized to the peasant in front of the whole police staff. The person who did that was arrested, so no one would ever dare to think about harming civilians in retaliation for what the armed forces had done."

Even today, many citizens in Qasax say Ashurov's tenure as chief was the only period when they really respected the police.

"I remember that when we'd ask our children who they would like to be in the future, they would answer, 'I will be Ashurov,' " says Qazax resident Ilaha Gadimova. "Not the police, [but] Ashurov.” […]

photo - via RFE/RL

1 comment:

parisan said...

Fascinating. Amazing. Inspiring man. The whole world needs more Ashurov's... well as a revision of our countless rules and laws, which make corruption so profitable, because more laws = more corruption, although I am not saying that anarchy is the solution.

“Wise men, though all laws were abolished, would lead the same lives”. --Aristophane