This week an Azerbaijani court sentenced Karen Ghazaryan, an Armenian citizen with medical disabilities, who was arrested by Azerbaijani authorities for allegedly entering Azerbaijan without permission.  He was sentenced to a term of 20 years. The ARWC condemns this decision vehemently. By all accounts, and as confirmed by the Republic of Armenia, Mr. Ghazaryan has never been a member of the Armenian military and had wandered off to find himself on the Azerbaijani side of the border.

In the wacky and wholly upside-down world of Azerbaijan’s criminal justice system, Armenian villagers who inadvertently stray over the nearby border are roughed up by the local Azeri hordes and then automatically labeled and prosecuted as saboteurs.  Curiously, the Armenians also usually, not long after their apprehension, end up dead. Just a few years ago, three villagers of Armenia’s Tavush region, whence Mr. Ghazaryan himself drifted off, were branded  by the authorities in Baku as dangerous terrorists, and wouldn’t you know it, the Armenians-while in custody-somehow slipped of their own accord right into their deaths.

The Azerbaijani court’s sentencing decision is blatantly contrary to international norms of criminal justice.  Azerbaijan should have adhered to normal international protocols, instituted removal proceedings and returned Mr. Ghazaryan to his country of citizenship.  Instead, Azerbaijan has imposed nothing less than a cruel and an unusual sentence of a two-decade imprisonment.  To boot, and in an exercise of diplomatic ransom-making, it has conditioned his early release on Armenia’s release of two convicted Azeri murderers.

The Azeri regime’s understanding of the role of criminal justice is unhinged from the international order completely.  We recall the Azerbaijani state’s glorification of Ramil Safarov, an officer of the Azerbaijani army convicted of the 2004 murder of Armenian Army Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan during a NATO-sponsored training seminar in Budapest. Azerbaijan repatriated the convicted murderer, promoted him and then glorified him as a national hero.  The recent sentencing of Mr. Ghazaryan demonstrates that the Azeri government’s understanding of criminal justice remains a blatantly political tool, divorced wildly from any sense of measure or meaning.

Azerbaijan’s treatment of Mr. Ghazaryan is consistent with Baku’s long and brutal history of state-sponsored arbitrary, discriminatory and abhorrent conduct against ethnic Armenians.  In fact, its conduct is in stark contrast to the Republic of Artsakh’s release of an Azerbaijani soldier, Elnur Huseynzade, just two weeks ago, after Mr. Huseynzade served a more humane sentence of two years for entering Artsakh illegally.  In that case, Mr. Huseynzade begged to not be returned to Azerbaijan, and Artsakh authorities complied with the former Azeri soldier’s wishes and transferred him to Armenia for placement in a third country per his request.

In both a normative legal sense and in contemporaneous actual context, it is flatly impossible to rationalize a 20-year sentence against Mr. Ghazaryan.  In fact, and unlike Mr. Huseynzade, Mr. Ghazaryan is not even a military conscript.  To be clear, he is a medically-disabled civilian who now finds himself a political prisoner of Azerbaijan.

While we do not hold our breath as the despotic Azerbaijani regime lays its chess pieces on the board without any appreciation for the rules, we emphatically call upon the international community—including but not limited to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights—to condemn Azerbaijan and demand the release and return of Mr. Karen Ghazaryan to Armenia.



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