August 30, 2018
Changes to the leadership and rules surrounding Azerbaijan’s Bar Association have left a number of prominent human rights lawyers unable to practice their trade. Independent journalists and opposition politicians say they are being left defenceless against political prosecutions, with one prominent human rights defender claiming just six lawyers now represent 150 political prisoners.
Freelance journalist Aynur Elgunash sued Azerbaijan’s Bar Association after they expelled her lawyer, Yalchin Imanov. Elgunash was repeatedly summoned for questioning as part of an investigation into journalists from Meydan TV, and she was eventually handed a travel ban. Before being disbarred, Imanov defended her both in interviews with police and in the courts. Now, the journalist has been left without a lawyer.
‘I need my lawyer’, Elgunash told OC Media, ‘in protest against the removal of my lawyer from the Bar Association, I appealed to Baku Administrative Economic Court No 1, but my complaint was dismissed’. The case is now being heard in the Court of Appeals.
Elgunash said the Bar Association offered her another lawyer. ‘I didn’t want that’, she said, ‘because I don’t trust any other lawyers. In today’s situation, the number of attorneys in the political process is minimal’.
According to Elgunash, the vast majority of lawyers are afraid to properly represent clients in political cases, so they take part as brokers only.
‘I’m against it. I can only trust people who won’t lead me in the wrong direction’, Elgunash said.
In past years, politically motivated disbarment was a relatively rare occurrence. With notable exceptions such as rights lawyers Aslan Ismayilov, Khalid Bagirov, Elchin Namazov, and Muzaffar Bakhish, all expelled from practising law.
In recent months, however, the crackdown has intensified, with a number of lawyers defending political activists and journalists facing disciplinary action by the Bar Association.
Imanov, whose clients have also included renowned investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova among others, was disbarred in November 2017. Irada Javadova, who criticised the association for disbarring Yalchin Imanov was disbarred in June. Fakhraddin Mehdiyev, Asabali Mustafayev, and Nemat Karimli, who all defended prominent journalists and opposition figures were given year-long suspensions.