The International Human Rights Defense Committee (IHRDC), a non-profit association of independent lawyers in Europe, said in its latest report last week that Azerbaijani hostages Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev being held in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region occupied by Armenia are in a dire situation and have endured continuous torture.
“The traces of moral and physical torture could clearly be seen in the videos and photos of Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev shot during the so-called ‘trial process,’ IHRDC wrote in the report released on March 9.
“According to the information given to the families of the hostages through the letters, both prisoners have serious health issues. As a result of the irresponsible attitude of the Armenian government to the grave conditions of the prisoners, the health problems of both hostages are aggravating.”
The Committee identified that Armenia’s behavior towards the two captives reflects a willful ignoring of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Victims of War, as well as gross violation of international humanitarian law.
Three ethnic Azerbaijanis – Shahbaz Guliyev, Dilgam Asgarov and Hasan Hasanov – visited the graves of their relatives in the occupied Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan in the summer of 2014. Asgarov holds a Russian citizenship passport.
What was meant to be a visit to their family’s homeland ended up being a nightmare for them, after they were taken captive by Armenian armed forces.
Hasanov was shot dead at the scene, while Guliyev and Asgarov were taken into custody in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region which has been occupied by Armenia. Hasanov’s corpse was returned to Azerbaijan and buried in Baku in 2014.
After what was considered a bogus, two-month trial held in Khankendi city in Nagorno-Karabakh region in December 2014, Asgarov was sentenced to life imprisonment and Guliyev was put behind the bars for 22 years. Both were charged with so-called “espionage acts.”
Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry issued a statement at the time, following the court proceedings, in which the spokesperson Hikmat Hajiyev said the trial had no legal basis. Hajiyev blamed Armenia for ignoring its commitments to international humanitarian law, such as the Geneva Conventions and calls of the international community on releasing Asgarov and Guliyev.
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits the taking of hostages during international and non-international armed conflicts. It is also prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and is considered a grave breach of the principles articulated in the Article 3.
A special committee created in Azerbaijan for protecting the rights of Asgarov and Guliyev revealed in 2016 that both hostages endure periodical torture by the employees of the prison in which they are kept, while they have been deprived of fundamental human rights and necessary medical care.
In April 2015, Guliyev underwent gallbladder surgery in Khankendi city. Due to post-surgery pains, he was transferred to a clinic in Armenia’s capital Yerevan. In a letter to his family in 2017, Guliyev wrote that his condition was deteriorating day by day due to poor medical care he was receiving. According to his brother Ilham Guliyev, he completely stopped eating because of severe pains in his stomach and digestive system.
Asgarov’s lawyer Anar Baghirov confirmed that both hostages have been brutally tortured in the cell they are being kept in, which are said to be inhumane.
“They are regularly tortured. We have all the necessary information that we constantly send to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in order to speed up the process of considering the case,” Baghirov told Trend news agency on Monday.
The International Committee of Red Cross is conducting periodic visits to the prison where the captives have been held, but it has not disclosed its finding to the public.
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said he was worried about the fate of the hostages. Victoria Nuland, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, called on Armenia to transfer Asgarov and Guliyev to Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan lost its Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts – Lachin, Kalbajar, Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Qubadli, and Zangilan – to Armenia during a war that lasted from 1991 to 1994. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia launched an all-out armed invasion against Azerbaijan and occupied what amounts to 20 percent of the country’s landmass. The death toll on the Azerbaijani side was 30,000 and one million people were displaced.
According to official Azerbaijani accounts, over 4,000 citizens, are still in captivity.