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 Friday, June 14 2024 11:33
Alexandr Avanesov

Azerbaijani authorities torture Ruben Vardanyan - int`l legal team  raises alarm

Azerbaijani authorities torture Ruben Vardanyan - int`l legal team  raises alarm

ArmInfo. Today, the international legal team for Ruben Vardanyan, a political prisoner detained in Azerbaijan, filed an urgent appeal with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, imploring her to condemn the torture and ill-  treatment that the Azerbaijan Government has perpetrated against him, a statement by an international legal team for Ruben Vardanyan reads.  

"Ruben is an influential Armenian business leader, social entrepreneur, and philanthropist who also briefly served as Nagorno-Karabakh's Minister of State. 

On September 27, 2023, in the wake of Azerbaijan's ethnic cleansing  of 120,000 Armenians of Nagorno- Karabakh, Ruben was arrested as he  attempted, together with the remaining civilian population, to cross  the border into Armenia through the Lachin corridor. That same day,  he was remanded to pretrial detention and he has been detained on  baseless alleged criminal charges ever since. 

In a continuation of Azerbaijan's campaign of ethnic cleansing, his  detention was soon followed by the arrest of other Nagorno-Karabakh  leaders.  Disturbingly, Ruben's family and international counsel  learned that during his hunger strike in April 2024, Ruben was placed  in a punishment cell, denied access to drinking water, deprived of  sleep, forced to hold stress positions, denied access to his lawyer,  and held in incommunicado detention. We are still unaware of the full  extent of the psychological and physical trauma resulting from this  treatment.  Jared Genser, international counsel to Ruben said: "Ruben  Vardanyan is an inspiring humanitarian and philanthropist who has  been advocating for the human rights of the people of  Nagorno-Karabakh for many years. It is extremely revealing that  Azerbaijan views him as a threat that must be silenced through  arbitrary detention and, more recently, torture and ill-treatment. If  Azerbaijan wants to be taken seriously on the international stage -  and if it wants COP29 to be the 'COP for peace' - then it must stop  mistreating Ruben and release him and the other Nagorno-Karabakh  political prisoners immediately." From April 5-25, 2024, Ruben  engaged in a hunger strike to protest his politically- motivated  prosecution and that of the other Armenian prisoners. In retaliation,  the authorities of the Pre-Trial Detention facility of the State  Security Service - where he is currently detained - moved him to a  punishment cell, which he was never allowed to leave for the duration  of the hunger strike. The lights in the cell were kept on around the  clock, which lead to severe sleep deprivation and exhaustion. In  addition, he was forced to stand for extended periods of time and was  deprived of drinking water for over two full days. Moreover, he was  not allowed to bathe or change clothes; he was not given any toilet  paper; he was not allowed to have any books or paper; and there were  no bed sheets (so he had to sleep on a dirty mattress). Of particular  concern, neither Ruben's lawyer nor anyone else (including the local  ombudsman) was allowed to visit him during the hunger strike and his  communication with the outside world (for example, through phone  calls with family) was cut off.  

This treatment - intended to punish Ruben for engaging in a hunger  strike, and also for his political service in and advocacy for  Nagorno-Karabakh - violates Azerbaijan's obligations under the  Convention Against Torture, as well as The United Nations Standard  Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela  Rules).  Unfortunately, Ruben's mistreatment comes as no surprise -  Azerbaijan has a well- documented history of torturing political  prisoners generally and ethnic Armenian detainees specifically. Given  Ruben's ethnicity, his status as a former high-level official in the  Government of Nagorno-Karabakh, his outspoken criticism of  Azerbaijan's treatment of Nagorno-Karabakh and its people, and his  detention at the hands of the State Security Service (which is  notorious for the torture of ethnic Armenians), he is at imminent  risk of further torture and ill-treatment.  Ruben's son, David  Vardanyan, said: "We were shocked to learn of the horrors that my  father has had to endure. It is terrifying to think of what is being  done to other less prominent prisoners in Azerbaijan who have not  received the international support that my father has. For the sake  of all the current political prisoners in Azerbaijan - whether  Armenian, Azerbaijani, or any other nationality - this inhumane  treatment of prisoners must be stopped. We urge the UN to hold the  Azerbaijan Government accountable and to help protect my father's  life." Numerous human rights organizations, national governments, and  international bodies have called for Azerbaijan to release Ruben and  the other Nagorno-Karabakh political prisoners. Most recently, on  June 11, 2024, U.S. Senator Ed Markey called for the prisoners'  release on the Senate floor, specifically noting and condemning  Ruben's recent mistreatment."

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