The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan in its session on March 9 confirmed a ruling by the Garadagh District Court in Baku and rejected the lawsuit of Namiq Valiyev, a prisoner with a life sentence who has been struggling since the fall of 2002 to continue his higher education while in prison.
Valiyev was in his second year at the Physical Education Institute in 1996 when he was imprisoned for taking part in a murder. The former track and field athlete was convicted of joining a gang who was helping a friend collect a debt, and then standing in the street while his friend killed the debtor inside a building.
After a year-long negotiation with prison officials over his education, Valiyev received a written rejection. He filed a complaint with the Garadagh District Court, pointing out that his rejection should be overturned under the 42nd article of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, the 10th article of the Code about Executing Punishments, and at least eight international documents to which Azerbaijan is obligated, including the 2nd article of Extra Protocol to the European Convention on Protection of Human Rights and Main Freedoms.
The current judge at Garadagh District Court, Tofiq Samedov, refused to comment on the case because it happened before he held the seat, and he said it would be hard work to dig into these old documents. He suggested a Supreme Court Internet site, but did not know the address. Neither the press secretary nor a spokesman for the Department for Criminal Cases of the Azerbaijan Supreme Court would comment on the verdict.
Court officials referred to Article 119.2 of the Punishments Execution Code, which states that the rights of those sentenced to so-called "deportative" prisons can be limited by the prison chief. Deportative prisons in the Azeri system are designed for hardened criminals and conditions are severe. Valiyev's attorney argues that the Gobustan prison in Garadagh District is not a deportative prison.
The 28-year-old prisoner has an agreement with Khazar University to receive instruction by correspondence. The university agreed to give him this education for free and provide him with free training aids as an experiment.
After the rejection by the Supreme Court, the prisoner's new claim about the denial of his rights was added to his main complaint which had been registered with the European Court of Human Rights the previous year as case number 16734/04, Zeynalov said. "The European Court will inspect it carefully because it has been examined at all levels of Azerbaijan's courts, and I think the turn for our case may come in a year," Zeynalov said.
Zeynalov said complaints about denying the right to get an education are rare in the European Court. "I couldn't find any similar complaints from prisoners in the European Court's archives going back through 45 years of documents," he said. "No other country has made a similar refusal."
The attorney thinks the case could set a precedent in the European Court. "The (Azeri) court officials answered this complaint by saying I was advertising myself," Zeynalov said.
Valiyev can appeal his life sentence after 25 years, and he could be released in ten years under a Decree of Pardon. "The prison is supposed to be an institution that improves a prisoner, and education might improve his behavior," Zeynalov said, referring to another article in the Punishments Execution Code.
The prison chief who originally ruled against Zeynalov has since resigned. But according to Zeynalov, the new chief told him: "You know we are inspecting everyone who comes to visit the prison properly. So we will inspect your professor (from the university) in such a way that he never comes again."
On four different occasions, Valiyev was kept in the same ward with tuberculosis patients. All four of those patients have died, but Valiyev has not caught the disease.
If his appeal succeeds, Khazar University hopes to get a grant for this program and give free education to other prisoners in the future. The Dean of Rights and the Social Sciences faculty at Khazar University, Jabir Khalilov, forwarded a letter to the court again stating there would not be any serious problems with the prisoner's education at the university.
According to Zeynalov, Valiyev is the co-author of three detective novels. One of them is "Doomed to Loneliness" in which the main hero struggles against a corrupt system and leaves his native country.
Zeynalov said Valiyev's parents are not in Azerbaijan. He contacted them and found out Valiyev's mother is in Russia and his father is in Kazakhstan. "They gave me lots of thanks, but said they couldn't come. Actually, he is quite alone now," Zeynalov said.