On July 7, the Court of Serious Crimes of Azerbaijan sentenced Harutyun Hovagimyan and Karen Ghazaryan, two Armenian servicemen kidnapped from Shikahogh positions in Syunik region, to 11 years and 6 months in prison. The prosecutor requested a sentence of 12 years.

In Azerbaijan, where fundamental human rights are violated with unprecedented pressures, the judicial power allegedly tries to protect the rights of Armenian hostages. Azerbaijani media publishes footage, trying to show that there is a polite attitude towards Armenian servicemen.

In a conversation with Forrights.am, human rights defender Siranush Sahakyan describes this attitude as staging. “We are dealing with staged court processes that create covers. These processes have nothing to do with law, legal principles or the protection of human rights.”

Harutyun Hovagimyan and Karen Ghazaryan are accused in Azerbaijan of illegally crossing the state border, planning terrorist acts, subversive infiltration. Whereas, on May 26, the servicemen took bread and water to the positions and were kidnapped by the Azerbaijani subversive group on their return. The human rights defender does not consider any other option probable besides kidnapping.

To remind, on April 9, 2023, it became known that two Azerbaijani servicemen crossed the RA state border from Nakhichevan and entered Syunik. One of them killed the guard of Zangezur copper-molybdenum factory. The kidnapping of Armenian servicemen followed this incident.

“There was a kidnapping. This abduction was intentional and planned in order to counter the legal actions of the Armenian side and to show their force. In other words, Azerbaijan is carrying out punitive actions for the fact that the Armenian side gave a legal assessment to the actions of its criminal servicemen and international partners were promoting the issue of exchange, under which conditions Armenian prisoners of war could be repatriated in exchange for these criminals.

Azerbaijan solves two problems with this action. It delays the repatriation of Armenian prisoners of war, which is used for the purpose of extortion: it puts pressure on the RA authorities to solve political issues. From the other point of view, by having new servicemen and presenting them as criminals, Azerbaijan is trying to solve the problem of the return of its criminals,” says Siranush Sahakyan.

According to her, it is possible to protect the hostage Armenian servicemen only in international courts.

“The only means of protection are the international mechanisms, and in this regard, the problem of two servicemen has been raised within the framework of the interstate complaint. There is a need for the processes to proceed quickly. Azerbaijan is aware of the duration of court proceedings and tries to gain political benefits during that period. They realize that, in the end, the violated rights of these boys will be restored through the judicial process.”

Thus, according to official data, there are 35 prisoners of war in Azerbaijan, including the servicemen abducted from Shikahogh on May 26.

“According to official data, there are 35 prisoners, and the number of 80 is unchanged at the moment. Unfortunately, we don’t have any levers on Azerbaijan to confirm their capture. On the other hand, the fact-finding was able to substantiate these cases in the early stages. In the later period, there are no new facts for us to be able to record new cases of captures; at the moment, the number of 80 is static,” says the human rights defender

After the Pashinyan-Aliev-Michel tripartite meeting held in Brussels on May 14, EU President Charles Michel made a statement in which, referring to the issue of the release of prisoners of war, he noted that the participants of the negotiations had an understanding that the “detainees” would be released in the near future — over the course of weeks. Charles Michel, however, did not specify specific dates.

Almost two months after this meeting, the Armenian prisoners of war have not returned to their homeland. 

Narek Kirakosyan

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