Azerbaijan authorities responsible for the death and torture of an Armenian man in a military police department cell

The case of Saribekyan and Balyan v. Azerbaijan (application no. 35746/11) concerned the death of the applicants’ son, an Armenian citizen, while in military police detention in Azerbaijan. Particularly, their son, Manvel Saribekyan, born in 1990, was arrested in Azerbaijan in September 2010. His family state that he inadvertently crossed the border in the fog in a forest while looking for wood and stray cattle, however, the Azerbaijani authorities accused him of being part of a plan to blow up a school in a nearby Azerbaijani village. He was taken to the Military Police Department of the Ministry of Defence in Baku and placed in a cell, where he was found dead in October 2010, with the Azerbaijani authorities subsequently finding that he had hanged himself. A forensic report was issued. The body was returned to Armenia in November 2010 and the authorities there opened a criminal investigation. A forensic report found injuries on his neck, head and body. An investigation in Azerbaijan found in January 2011 that Mr Saribekyan had committed suicide, that he had been held in proper conditions and that he had not been assaulted while in custody.

Violation of Article 2

In the Court’s estimation, the limited Azerbaijani investigation into Mr Saribekyan’s case and the lack of documentation to support the findings gave cause for concern. The applicants had made a prima facie case that their son had been taken into custody in good health and had died as the result of actions by personnel at the Military Police Department in Baku. Given the evidence made available to the Court, including the Armenian investigation’s descriptions and photographs of Mr Saribekyan’s injuries, and the information on the arrangement of the cell, the account according to which he had hung himself could not be accepted. The Government of Azerbaijan had not convincingly accounted for how Mr Saribekyan had died and the respondent’s State’s responsibility was engaged. There had thus been a violation of Article 2.

The Court has found several shortcomings in the investigation into the death of Mr Saribekyan, particularly:

  • no other scenario than Mr Saribekyan’s suicide was considered,
  • no careful investigation into whether ethnic hatred had contributed to his death,
  • the Azerbaijani authorities have failed to contact the family or any Armenian authority.

Thus, the Court concluded that there had been a further violation of the Convention owing to the investigation in Azerbaijan.

Violation of Article 3

The Court took account of the Armenian forensic examination various injuries caused by a blunt object. Neither the Azerbaijani Government’s submissions nor the documents in the case file gave reason to question those findings.

The Court thus found that Mr Saribekyan had been subjected to ill-treatment in the form of severe physical violence during the final days of his life while being detained in the Military Police Department in Baku.

The Court found that the suffering he had endured had amounted to torture and that he had suffered a violation of his rights under Article 3. It found no violation of the two applicants’ rights under this provision, although it had no doubt that the arrest, detention and death of their son, as well as the uncertainty about his fate, had caused them profound suffering.

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