CASE OF HAJI AND OTHERS v. AZERBAIJAN (European Court of Human Rights)

FIFTH SECTION
CASE OF HAJI AND OTHERS v. AZERBAIJAN
(Applications nos. 3503/10 and 7 others – see appended list)
JUDGMENT
STRASBOURG
1 October 2020

This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Haji and others v. Azerbaijan,

The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:
Mārtiņš Mits, President,
Latif Hüseynov,
Mattias Guyomar, judges,
and Anne-Marie Dougin, Acting Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 8 September 2020,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

PROCEDURE

1. The case originated in eight applications (applications nos. 3503/10, 25216/10, 35563/11, 68351/11, 22906/12, 27680/13, 38323/14 and 19883/15) against the Republic of Azerbaijan lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by eight Azerbaijani nationals, Mr Zamin Vazir oglu Haji (“the first applicant”), Mr Afgan Sabir oglu Muktarli (“the second applicant”), Mr Hakimeldostu Eldostu oglu Mehdiyev (“the third applicant”), Mr Ilgar Elbayi oglu Nasibov (“the forth applicant”), Mr Ramid Alasgar oglu Ibrahimov (“the fifth applicant”), Mr Ehtimad Yunis oglu Budagov (“the sixth applicant”), Mr Idrak Telman oglu Abbasov (“the seventh applicant”) and Mr Tapdig Farhad oglu Guliyev (“the eighth applicant”) (“the applicants”), on various dates (see Appendix).

2. The applicants were represented by various lawyers (see Appendix). The Azerbaijani Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr Ç. Əsgərov.

3. The applicants complained that they had been ill-treated and that the domestic authorities had failed to investigate their complaints in this connection. They furher complained that their right to freedom of expression had been violated. The fourth applicant also complained of a breach of his right of access to a court and a violation of his right to respect for his private life. The applicants, save the eighth applicant, also complained of a lack of effective remedies in respect of their ill‑treatment complaints.

4. On 11 July 2017 the Government were given notification of the complaints concerning all applicants under Articles 3 and 10 of the Convention. The Government were also given notification of the complaints under Articles 6 § 1 and 8 of the Convention (application no. 68351/11) and the complaint under Article 13 of the Convention in conjunction with Article 3 of the Convention (applications nos. 3503/10, 25216/10, 35563/11, 68351/11, 22906/12, 27680/13 and 38323/14). The remainder of applications nos. 3503/10, 35563/11, 68351/11, 22906/12, 27680/13 and 19883/15 was declared inadmissible pursuant to Rule 54 § 3 of the Rules of Court.

THE FACTS

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

5. The applicants’ dates of birth and places of residence are given in the Appendix.

A. The first applicant, Mr Haji

1. Alleged attack on the first applicant

6. The first applicant was a columnist with the Yeni Musavat newspaper.

7. On 12 December 2008 an article by him criticising A.N., the chairman of the Karabakh Liberation Organisation, a local NGO, was published in Yeni Musavat.

8. On the same day A.N. contacted the applicant, another correspondent and the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, criticising the applicant and threatening him with battery and insisting that they stop writing about him.

9. At around 6 p.m., following A.N.’s call, the applicant met the former in front of the office of Yeni Musavat. During the conversation A.N. swore at the applicant and insisted that he stop writing about him. A.N. punched the applicant in the face. Three of A.N.’s colleagues, who were waiting behind nearby trees, joined him. One of them twisted the applicant’s arms, while others, including A.N. beat him. The applicant’s glasses were broken. Owing to the darkness and his poor vision without glasses, the applicant could not recognise the three people who had joined A.N. in the attack.

10. In response to the applicant’s call for help E.M. and V.Z., correspondents who were at the office of the newspaper at the material time, approached and helped the applicant to escape. Later other people from the office of the newspaper, the head of the Musavat Party, I.G., and the editor‑in-chief of Yeni Musavat, R.A., appeared at the scene of incident, in whose presence A.N. continued to threaten the applicant.

2. Remedies used by the first applicant

(a) Criminal investigation

11. On 12 December 2008 the applicant lodged a criminal complaint with Binagadi police office no. 5. He complained that A.N. had beaten and insulted him and that several people had witnessed this. The case was transferred to the Binagadi district prosecutor’s office, which opened a criminal case under Article 163 (Obstruction of the lawful professional activity of journalists) of the Criminal Code on 14 December 2008.

12. On 30 January 2009 he sent a letter to the prosecutor’s office, seeking information on the progress in the investigation and asking, inter alia, to call witnesses on his behalf. The applicant did not receive a response to his letter.

13. On an unspecified date the applicant’s representative was informed that by a decision of 2 February 2009 the Binagadi district prosecutor’s office had stayed the applicant’s case on the grounds of the necessity to identify the three persons complicit in beating the applicant together with A.N. It also refused the applicant access to the case file on the grounds that it could not be allowed before the conclusion of the investigation.

14. On 19 March 2009 the applicant complained to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Binagadi district prosecutor’s office of the inaction of the investigator, the decision to stay the criminal case and the investigator’s failure to provide him with a copy of the decision. The applicant did not receive any reply to his complaint.

(b) Complaints with the courts

15. On 18 May 2009 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Binagadi District Court in accordance with the procedure set out in Articles 449‑51 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which concerned appeals against actions and decisions taken by the prosecuting authorities. He complained about the decision to stay the criminal case and of not being provided with a copy of the relevant decision and asked the court to find the prosecuting authorities’ failure to examine his complaint unlawful.

16. By its decision of 29 May 2009 the Binagadi District Court dismissed the applicant’s complaint as unsubstantiated. On 4 June 2009 the applicant appealed against this decision. By its decision of 9 June 2009 the Binagadi District Court declared the appeal inadmissible as time-barred. On 3 July 2009 the Baku Court of Appeal upheld the first-instance court’s decision of 9 June 2009.

17. On 2 December 2009 the applicant brought a civil action before the Binagadi District Court, complaining about the ineffectiveness of the criminal investigation. By its decision of 14 December 2009 the court refused to admit his complaint, instructing the applicant to file a criminal complaint instead. The applicant appealed against this decision, claiming that he did not have another remedy to complain of the ineffectiveness of the criminal investigation.

18. On 23 February 2010 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed the applicant’s appeal.

19. By its decision of 27 May 2010 the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Baku Court of Appeal, dismissing the applicant’s cassation appeal of 16 March 2010.

(c) Other complaints to the prosecuting authorities

20. By his letters and applications of 26 October and 30 December 2009, and 7 and 11 June 2010 sent to the investigator in charge of his case, the applicant requested an update on the progress in his case and asked that an effective investigation be conducted. His petitions remained without reply.

21. On 7 October 2013 the applicant lodged complaints with the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Binagadi district prosecutor’s office and Binagadi district police office, asking them to inform him of the progress of the investigation, including the relevant actions and decisions taken in this connection, and asked to be provided with access to his criminal case files. He did not receive any reply to his complaints.

(d) Further complaints to the court

22. On 13 October 2010 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Binagadi District Court. He asked the court to order the prosecuting authority to recognise him as a victim; to sever A.N.’s criminal case from the three co-accused until finding them; and to give the applicant a copy of the decision to stay the criminal case.

23. By its decision of 19 October 2010 the Binagadi District Court rejected the complaint on account of lack of jurisdiction to hear cases regarding inaction on the part of the prosecuting authorities. On 22 November 2010 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the applicant against that decision.

24. On 14 October 2013 the applicant lodged a third complaint with the Binagadi District Court. He mainly reiterated his previous complaints.

25. By its decision of 24 October 2013 the Binagadi District Court dismissed the applicant’s complaint with regard to quashing the decision on a stay of the case on the grounds that the applicant had missed the time-limit for appealing against that decision. With regard to the complaint on not being given a copy of the decision to stay the criminal case, it held that the applicant did not have the right to obtain a copy of that decision, since he was not recognised as a victim in the case. On 2 December 2013 the applicant appealed against the decision, complaining of the authorities’ failure to carry out any further investigative measures during the four years the criminal case had been stayed. On 11 December 2013 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, upholding the first-instance court’s decision.

B. The second applicant, Mr Mukhtarli

1. Alleged ill-treatment of the second applicant

26. The second applicant was a journalist and worked as a reporter for the Yeni Musavat newspaper.

27. On 7 January 2009 the applicant was present at a demonstration held in front of the Israeli Embassy in Baku to report on it. He was wearing a special vest identifying him as a journalist.

28. When the applicant was taking a photograph of a police officer beating one of the participants in the demonstration during its dispersal by the police, the head of the Yasamal district police office, M.H., ordered the police officers to seize the applicant’s camera. In response the applicant presented his press card to the police officers. According to the applicant, two police officers made him sit on the ground by twisting his arms behind his back and around thirty officers started to beat him in the presence of M.H., punching and kicking him on different parts of his body. The applicant submitted that to seize the camera, one of the police officers had sharply turned back the fingers of his right hand so that the applicant was compelled to give up his camera. The police took away the camera.

29. The applicant was taken to the police car and released after twenty‑five minutes on M.H.’s order, following a request by the editor‑in‑chief of Yeni Musavat to the police.

30. His camera was returned to him, but it was damaged. The same day the deputy chairman of Baku city police office sent the camera’s memory card to the office of the newspaper. The photos of the beating of the participant of the demonstration by the police had been removed from it.

31. The applicant submitted that he had suffered pain in different parts of his body, in particular, the baby finger of his right hand and left knee. Allegedly, owing to the pain he took five days’ leave and after a consultation with a private physician on 21-28 January 2009 he received medical treatment at home. No documentation has been submitted in this connection.

2. Remedies used by the second applicant

32. On 9 January 2009 the applicant lodged a criminal complaint with the Baku city police office, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, requesting the opening of a criminal case into his beating by the police officers. He also asked them, inter alia, to arrange a forensic medical report to confirm the injuries sustained by him, to conduct a confrontation to identify the police officers who had beaten him, and to examine the relevant security-camera recordings of the incident in question.

33. On an unspecified date the Ministry of Internal Affairs launched an internal investigation.

34. On 17 January 2009 the applicant underwent a forensic medical examination, including an X-ray examination of his right hand and left leg.

35. On 26 January 2009 he asked the Ministry of Internal Affairs to inform him of the outcome of the X-ray examination. The Ministry replied that it had already sent two letters informing him of the outcome of the investigation into his case. Following the applicant’s reply that he had never received the mentioned letters, on 11 March 2009 he was informed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs that the internal investigation into his case had found his complaints unsubstantiated and that a forensic expert had not identified any injuries, only “the post-traumatic area of deformation caused by an old fracture of a bone in his right hand that had already healed”.

36. By his letters of 26 March and 27 June 2009 the applicant asked the Ministry of Internal Affairs to provide him with copies of the decision adopted with regard to his case and the forensic report. He has not received a response to his letters.

37. On 27 June 2009 he complained to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the failure to investigate his case and to provide him with the documents in that connection, and asked to call as witnesses journalists of Yeni Musavat who had observed his physical condition immediately after the attack.

38. On 14 August 2009 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Sabail District Court against the Ministry of Internal Affairs for its failure to investigate his case. By a decision of 24 August 2009 the court rejected the complaint on the grounds of a lack of jurisdiction to hear such complaints.

39. On 25 September 2009 the applicant appealed against this decision to the Baku Court of Appeal, complaining that the first-instance court had unlawfully refused to hear his case.

40. On 15 October 2009 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed the applicant’s complaint, upholding the decision of the first-instance court.

41. On not receiving a response to his previous complaint of 10 February 2009 sent to the Yasamal district prosecutor’s office regarding instituting the investigation into his case, on 22 October 2009 the applicant lodged another criminal complaint on 22 October 2009, requesting that the Yasamal district prosecutor’s office update him on the progress of the investigation into his case.

42. On an unspecified date the applicant gave an interview, reiterating his complaints. By a decision of 19 January 2010 the Yasamal district prosecutor’s office refused to open a criminal case. The decision referred to the testimony of members of the riot-police regiment of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Officers R.G., V.H., E.B., and Y.G., who had denied ill‑treating the applicant and seizing his camera, and the head of the Yasamal district police office, M.H.

43. On 27 May 2010 the applicant lodged a complaint against this decision with the Yasamal District Court. He complained that the prosecuting authority had, inter alia, refused to obtain the video recordings and forensic evidence and to examine witnesses.

44. By its decision of 18 June 2010 the Yasamal District Court dismissed the applicant’s complaint as unsubstantiated.

45. On 29 July 2010 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed the applicant’s appeal of 21 June 2010.

C. The third applicant, Mr Mehdiyev

1. Alleged attack on the third applicant

46. The third applicant was a journalist and worked as a regional reporter for the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a non‑governmental organisation specialising in the protection of journalists’ rights, in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (“the NAR”).

47. On 31 January 2009 the applicant attended a meeting held by opposition political parties in the regional office of the political party Umid. According to the applicant, during the meeting I.I., a person whom the applicant did not know, attacked the applicant shouting, “Why did you swear at me” and punched him in the face and later threw an ashtray he found on the table at the applicant. Allegedly, it hit the applicant’s cheekbone under the left eye and caused bleeding. The applicant submitted that he had been taken to hospital, where the wound had been stitched up. However, he was allegedly not provided with a medical record of this treatment. According to the applicant, in the aftermath of this he had serious headaches and hearing problems in his left ear. He received medical treatment for this, but was not able to obtain a medical certificate for this treatment, allegedly due to the doctor’s fear of getting involved in his case.

48. The applicant submitted that on the same day the police had taken statements from the applicant, several witnesses and I.I. about the incident.

2. Remedies used by the third applicant

(a) Criminal proceedings

49. On 6 February 2009 the applicant met the head of the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR, H.A., and asked for information on the investigation into his case; he was not provided with the requested information. There the investigator interviewed the applicant for a second time.

50. On 2 March 2009 the applicant lodged complaints with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR, the prosecutor’s office of the NAR and the Nakchivan city prosecutor’s office, complaining of the ineffectiveness of the investigation into his case. He also asked them to order a forensic medical examination to document his injuries. The applicant did not receive any reply to his complaints.

51. On 12 June 2009 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Nakchivan City District Court concerning the lack of an effective investigation in his case and the lack of information in this connection. On 22 June 2009 the court dismissed the complaint as unsubstantiated and instructed the applicant to lodge a criminal complaint with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR.

52. On 13 July 2009 the applicant appealed against this decision, complaining that there was no need for him to lodge a separate complaint since the prosecuting authorities, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR, had already been informed of his case and had even interviewed him.

53. By a letter of 15 October 2009 sent to the Nakchivan City Court (Judge H.M.) and the Supreme Court of the NAR, the applicant asked for information on the progress on his appeal.

54. On 26 October 2009 Judge H.M. informed the applicant that the court had not received his appeal.

55. On 2 November 2009 the applicant resubmitted his appeal, enclosing his previous appeal that he had sent by registered post and the delivery slip confirming the receipt of his appeal of 13 July 2009 by Judge H.M.

56. By a letter dated 12 November 2009 H.M. informed the applicant that his appeal had been found inadmissible for being lodged outside of the statutory time-limit. On 18 November 2009 the applicant informed the judge that he had lodged the appeal within the statutory time-limit, as confirmed by an enclosed delivery slip. The judge responded by a letter of 1 December 2009 that the applicant had failed to comply with the statutory time-limit, without addressing the delivery slip submitted by the applicant.

57. By his letter of 28 November 2016 the applicant asked H.M. to provide him with a copy of the decision adopted with regard to his appeal. The judge responded that he had already updated the applicant on the state of his appeal by the previous letters.

58. On 18 November 2009 the applicant complained to the Supreme Court of the NAR and the Judicial-Legal Council (Məhkəmə-Hüquq Şurası) about H.M.’s failure to examine his complaint and asked that disciplinary proceedings be instituted against him. He did not receive any response to his complaints.

(b) Civil proceedings

59. On 12 November 2009 the applicant brought a civil action before the Nakchivan City Court, complaining of the failure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR, the Nakchivan city prosecutor’s office and Nakchivan city police office to investigate his case. On 28 January 2010 he sent a letter to the judge in charge of his complaint, asking the latter to inform him of any progress in his civil action. He did not receive any response to his complaints.

(c) Other complaints

60. On 17 July 2009 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR, the investigator of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR, H.A., Nakchivan city police office, and the Nakchivan city prosecutor’s office, reiterating his previous complaints. He has not received any response to these complaints, nor to his subsequent letter of 12 October 2009 requesting an update on his case.

61. On 3 February 2010 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Nakchivan City Court regarding the failure of the prosecuting authorities to investigate his case.

62. By letter of 18 February 2010 a judge of the Nakchivan City Court informed the applicant of the rejection of his complaint, on account of a hearing on a similar complaint having been held in the past. The applicant appealed, complaining that at the material time he had received a judge’s letter in response to his complaint, not a court decision. The applicant has not received any response to his appeal.

63. On 22 February 2010 the applicant lodged a similar complaint with the Nakchivan City Court regarding the prosecuting authorities’ refusal to hear his criminal complaint. By a letter of 10 March 2010 the judge informed the applicant that the investigator H.A. had informed the court that the applicant had never lodged a criminal complaint with the investigator’s office. On 29 March 2010 the applicant informed the judge that he had sent all the relevant documents to the prosecuting authorities by registered post and had delivery slips confirming receipt of his complaints by the investigator as well, and asked the judge to hold a hearing and to adopt the relevant decision in his case, instead of communicating with him by letter.

64. On 15 March 2010 the applicant lodged complaints with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the prosecutor’s office of the NAR, reiterating his complaints regarding the prosecuting authorities’ failure to investigate his case. He received a response only from the prosecutor’s office of the NAR, informing him by a letter of April 2010 that the applicant’s particular case did not fall within their jurisdiction.

65. On 6 July 2010 the applicant resubmitted his appeal against the Nakchivan City Court’s decision of 22 June 2009 and asked to have the statutory time-limit for an appeal renewed. He received no response.

D. The fourth applicant, Mr Nasibov

1. Background

66. The fourth applicant was a journalist based in Nakchivan and worked as a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

67. He was also a human-rights defender and operated an NGO named Resource Centre for Democracy and Development of NGOs.

2. Alleged attack on the fourth applicant

68. On 14 December 2009 the applicant together with his colleague V.E. was conducting a survey and disseminating awareness-raising fliers on the topic of corruption to students of Nakchivan State University as part of the grant project he was running. The deputy head of Nakchivan State University, M.R., the representative of the Yeni Azerbaijan political party (the ruling party) in the university, E.J., and several other university professors approached them, punched them on different parts of their bodies and told them to leave the area. They called the applicant a “traitor” and a “foreign agent”. In the presence of the applicant, E.J. called for the students of the university to assault the applicant.

69. At 12.25 p.m. on the same day, the applicant and V.E. ran into M.R., E.J. and up to forty students of the sports faculty of Nakchivan State University, who were waiting for them in the vicinity of the applicant’s house. The applicant called the police to inform them about the possible incident. While the applicant was talking to police, on the orders of M.R. and E.J., the students started to beat the applicant in an attack which lasted fifteen minutes. The applicant’s mobile phone was left on so that the police officer on the telephone line was able to hear the attack. At around 1 p.m. a plain-clothes police officer arrived at the scene of incident.

3. Remedies used by the fourth applicant in respect of an alleged attack against him

70. On 15 December 2009 the applicant approached the Nakchivan city police office, demanding the institution of a criminal investigation, but the police office refused to accept his complaint and instructed him to lodge a criminal complaint with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR.

71. On 16 December 2009 the applicant lodged a criminal complaint with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR and the prosecutor’s office of the NAR.

72. On 16 December 2009 the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR questioned the applicant. The applicant stated that he had sustained injuries and asked that a forensic medical examination be arranged. His request was not granted.

73. On 24 December 2009 he underwent a medical examination by a private doctor, who issued a certificate which stated that he had sustained contusion of the soft tissues of the left part of his chest.

74. On 9 January 2010 he resubmitted the same complaint to the investigator of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR, requesting that he open a criminal case and order a forensic medical examination of the applicant.

75. By his letter of 21 May 2010 he asked the investigator to inform him of the progress in the investigation, in particular about any decision taken in his case. He did not receive any response.

76. On 10 June 2010 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Nakchivan City Court against the inaction of the investigator in his case.

77. By a letter of 1 July 2010 a judge of the Nakchivan City Court, H.M., rejected the applicant’s complaint on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction to examine the complaint.

78. On 11 July 2010 the applicant lodged an appeal with an appellate court, complaining that his case had been rejected on the basis of the judge’s letter, not by a court decision. He has not received a response from the appellate court.

79. On 27 July 2010 the applicant sent a letter to Judge H.M. of the Nakchivan City Court, and the Supreme Court of the NAR, complaining that he had not received any response with regard to his appeal. The applicant has not received a response to his letter.

80. By his complaints of 5 and 8 October 2010 the applicant complained to the Supreme Court of the NAR and the Judicial-Legal Council of the failure of Judge H.M. to examine his case and asked that disciplinary proceedings be instituted against the judge. He has not received a response to his complaint.

4. Article about the fourth applicant and the remedies used by him

81. On 18 December 2009 the newspaper Sherg Gapisi, an official organ of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Parliament of the NAR, published a statement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR about the fourth applicant. The applicant was called, inter alia, “a traitor …, instigating tension (instability)” in Nakchivan, “who was ready to sell his soul in exchange for the cash of his owners” and that he had “told the students he had interviewed that he had been making money by betraying his country” and that his complaints of attacks on him on 15 December 2009 were not true.

82. On 21 May 2010 the applicant brought a civil action in the Nakchivan District Court against Sherg Gapisi and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NAR for defamation. By a decision of 4 July 2010 the court rejected the complaint on the grounds that the applicant had not mentioned the respondents’ postal addresses. On 10 June 2010 the applicant resubmitted the complaint, adding the addresses.

83. On 24 June 2010 the court rejected the case on the grounds of non‑payment of the court fee. On 2 July the applicant resubmitted the complaint, enclosing a receipt confirming the court fee had been paid.

84. By his letter of 27 July 2010 the applicant applied to a judge of the Nakchivan City Court for an update on his appeal. He did not receive any response to his request.

85. By his complaints of 5 and 8 October 2010 the applicant complained to the Supreme Court of the NAR and the Judicial-Legal Council of the unlawfulness of the actions of Judge H.M. He has not received any response to his complaint.

E. The fifth applicant, Mr Ibrahimov

1. Alleged attack on the fifth applicant

86. The fifth applicant was a journalist. He worked for the Bizim yol newspaper.

87. On 19 April 2011 more than hundred protesters held a demonstration in respect of property claims in front of the Presidential Office in Baku. The police dispersed the demonstration by recourse to force against the participants.

88. While the fifth applicant was recording the dispersal of the demonstration, an officer of the Special State Security Service, a State body under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, seized his camera and voice‑recording equipment and did not return it, although the applicant informed him that he was a journalist covering the event. The fifth applicant continued to record the event with his mobile phone, when one of the police officers hit the applicant’s leg with his knee. The fifth applicant fell to the ground. He escaped the attempted assault by the police officers with the help of the participants in the demonstration. One of the police officers shouted at him, “You are [journalists] not men, otherwise we would treat you properly”. The fifth applicant approached the police officers present at the scene of the incident to complain in this connection. In response the police officers made the police officer who had attacked the applicant leave the scene of the incident.

89. Following the seizure of his camera, the fifth applicant continued to record the event with his mobile phone. An officer of the Special State Security Service then seized the fifth applicant’s mobile phone as well.

2. Remedies used by the fifth applicant

90. On 21 April 2011 the fifth applicant lodged a criminal complaint with the Sabail district police office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Prosecutor General’s Office, complaining under Articles 163 (Obstruction of the lawful professional activity of journalists) and 221 (Hooliganism) of the Criminal Code. He asked that the persons who had beaten him and seized his equipment to prevent him from covering the event as a journalist be identified.

91. On 4 July 2011 he applied to the Sabail district police office, enquiring about progress in his case and requested access to security-camera recordings from the scene of the incident and that witnesses present at the scene of the incident be called for interview. He has not received any response to his request.

92. On 29 July 2011 the fifth applicant brought a civil action in the Baku Economic-Administrative Court No. 1, requesting that the court impose an obligation on Sabail district police office no. 9 to conduct an effective investigation into his case. On 25 August 2011 the court found his action inadmissible on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction to review the complaint against the inaction of the prosecuting authorities in the criminal proceedings.

93. On 29 July 2011 the fifth applicant lodged a complaint with the Sabail District Court against the failure of Sabail district police office to investigate his case.

94. On 3 August 2011 the Sabail District Court found the complaint inadmissible on the grounds that the judicial review of the prosecuting authority’s inaction was not allowed.

95. On 8 September 2011 the fifth applicant appealed against the Sabail District Court’s decision. On 16 September 2011 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed the fifth applicant’s appeal, upholding the first-instance court’s decision.

96. On 30 September 2011 he requested an update on the progress of the investigation into his case from Sabail district police office, but received no response.

97. On 19 October 2011 he lodged a complaint with the head of the Internal Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, M.H. By a letter of 22 October 2011 he was informed that his complaint had been sent to Baku police office for further investigation.

98. By letter of 15 November 2011 Baku police office informed the fifth applicant that Sabail district police office no. 9 had adopted a decision refusing to open a criminal case and that the investigator of that police office, F.M., who had been in charge of the fifth applicant’s case, had been given a warning for the failure to investigate the case at issue, and the head of Sabail district police office had been instructed to conduct a fresh inquiry into the case.

99. In October 2011 the fifth applicant was summoned to the Sabail district police office, where he made a statement.

100. By his letters of 12 December 2011 and 10 January 2012, the fifth applicant requested that Baku city police office inform him of updates in the investigation into his case. He did not receive any response to his requests.

F. The sixth applicant, Mr Budagov

1. Alleged attack on the sixth applicant

101. The sixth applicant was a journalist and worked as a photographer for Turan Information Agency in Baku.

102. On 2 April 2012 he was taking photographs, documenting the massive demolition of the buildings on S. Badalbayli Street in Baku and the residents’ forced eviction and the ensuing confrontation in this connection. The sixth applicant wore a journalist’s vest and had a press card.

103. The sixth applicant submitted that when he had been taking a photograph of A.I., a resident evicted from her building, the deputy head of the administration of Baku City Executive Authority, Z.I., who was supervising the demolition and forced evictions, told the applicant to stop taking photos. According to the applicant, when he refused, Z.I. swore at him and punched him in the face and abdomen multiple times. The residents present there helped the applicant to escape. Allegedly, Z.I. ordered the people in plain clothes surrounding him to beat the applicant. The sixth applicant further submitted that they had attacked him, swore at him, and tried to take his camera from him. They pushed him away and one of them broke his camera. When Z.I. went to hit the applicant again, one of the residents, A.I., who had been trying to separate them, was hit instead. Allegedly, the applicant suffered physical and psychological damage. According to him, he had complained to the police officers present at the scene of the incident of having been beaten and having had his camera broken and was instructed to apply to the relevant law-enforcement authorities.

2. Remedies used by the sixth applicant

104. On 4 April 2012 the sixth applicant complained to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor General’s Office, Nasimi district police office, and Baku City Executive Authority, against unlawful actions of the employees of Baku City Executive Authority and that this was in breach of his freedom of expression as well.

105. On 19 April 2012 he lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, requesting that a criminal case be opened.

106. On an unspecified date Nasimi district police office launched a criminal inquiry into the case of the sixth applicant and of several residents who had also raised similar complaints. The applicant gave a statement, complaining that he had been attacked on account of his journalistic activity, that he had sustained injuries, but had not sought medical treatment, and refused to undergo a forensic medical examination owing to the disappearance of the marks of his injuries twenty-two days after the attack. He also submitted a video recording, claiming that it confirmed that the attack on him had taken place, and asked to call N.F. and D.B., journalists present at the scene of the incident at the material time, as witnesses.

107. One of the residents subject to eviction, A.I., stated that when the applicant had been taking a photograph of her, Z.I. had tried to take the applicant’s camera away, pushing and kicking him. When she had intervened to stop the altercation, Z.I. had instead punched her in the face and had later kicked her in the abdomen.

108. Another resident, R.A., stated that he had seen Z.I. arguing with the applicant and seizing his collar, that people around had helped the applicant to escape and that the police present there had not addressed his complaints in this connection.

109. Z.I. denied any ill-treatment of the applicant and causing any damage to the applicant’s camera. F.M., E.M. and P.R., questioned as witnesses, who had been helping with the demolition in question, also denied the applicant’s allegations without mentioning their status or position.

110. J.B., an officer of Nasimi district police office, was questioned as a witness and stated that owing to the conflict which had arisen in the course of the eviction and demolition, he, and two other police officers, A.R., and F.A., had been present in the area in question. However, they had neither witnessed the attack on the applicant by Z.I., nor any act causing damage to the applicant’s camera. They added that the applicant had not approached them at the material time.

111. On 27 April 2012 Nasimi district police office refused to open a criminal case. The decision stated that the applicant had not sustained injuries and the witnesses’ statements had not confirmed the attack, that the video recording submitted by the applicant indicated there had been an altercation, rather than an attack on the applicant, and that by refusing to submit his camera to the prosecuting authority the applicant had prevented the examination of his claims in respect of that device.

112. On 15 August 2012 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Nasimi District Court against the refusal to open a criminal case, mentioning that the investigator had not questioned witnesses on his behalf, nor conducted a confrontation, nor examined his broken camera, and asked the court to question D.N. and N.F. as witnesses and to send his camera for an expert examination.

113. On 3 September 2012 the Nasimi District Court dismissed his complaint as unsubstantiated.

114. By decision of 14 September 2012 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal of 5 September 2012 lodged by the applicant.

G. The seventh applicant, Mr Abbasov

1. Background

115. The seventh applicant was a journalist and worked as a reporter for the Ayna-Zerkalo newspaper.

116. On 18 April 2012 he was recording the protest of the residents of the Sulutepe area of the Binagadi district against their eviction and the demolition of their houses on land claimed by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (“SOCAR”), a State-owned oil company. The officers of SOCAR’s security department equipped with truncheons and police officers of Binagadi district police office were involved in the demolition and forced eviction of the residents in the area in question.

117. The applicant was wearing a special journalist’s vest.

2. Alleged attack on the seventh applicant

118. The security guards of SOCAR ordered the applicant to stop recording the protest. The applicant submitted that in response to his refusal, up to twenty security guards had knocked him down to the ground and hit him repeatedly with rubber truncheons, kicked his head, eyes, ears, chest, ribs and abdominal area and swore at him. The applicant lost consciousness.

119. According to the applicant, the police officers present at the scene of the incident did not intervene to stop the security guards beating the applicant. Allegedly, the security guards and the police prevented a Yeni Musavat journalist, G.M., who was present at the scene of the incident from covering the event, and the applicant’s brothers, who lived in the area to be demolished and had witnessed the attack on the applicant, from helping him.

120. The security guards seized the applicant’s mobile phone with which he was recording the protest, broke it and removed its memory card; it has not been returned.

121. On the same day the applicant was taken to hospital by his brothers and underwent inpatient treatment for twelve days. According to the medical certificate provided by the hospital, the applicant sustained a traumatic brain injury, concussion, contusions and bruises around the right eye, a torn right eyelid, two broken ribs, contusion of the soft tissues of the lower torso area and some other injuries. Later he underwent eye surgery.

3. Remedies used by the seventh applicant

122. On 20 April 2012 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Binagadi district prosecutor office and Binagadi district police office, requesting that they open a criminal case, identify the persons that had beaten and insulted him, had broken his mobile phone and camera, and had interfered with his journalistic activities. He also requested that a forensic medical examination of his injuries be ordered.

123. On the same date he asked the hospital to provide him with the results of his X-ray examination of 18 April 2012. His request remained without reply.

124. On 23 May 2012 he resent the same complaint to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and asked to be informed of the progress in the investigation into his case.

125. On the same date he also asked the Ministry of Health to facilitate his access to the results of his X-ray examination, as the hospital had not addressed his request. On 11 June 2012 the applicant again lodged the same complaint with the investigator of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, T.N., requesting that a criminal case be opened and that he be recognised as a victim in the proceedings. The applicant was informed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs that SOCAR security guards and the police officers of Binagadi district police office had held a joint operation in the Sulutepe area with regard to planned demolitions and evictions and that on 19 April 2012 Binagadi district police office had opened a criminal case into, inter alia, the attack on the applicant and that as of 26 April 2012 the case had been transferred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for further investigation.

126. On unspecified dates the applicant was questioned and underwent a forensic medical examination.

127. By a letter of 18 July 2012, the Ministry of Health refused to provide the applicant with the requested X-ray examination results, claiming that they had already been sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

128. On 31 July 2012 the applicant requested that T.N., the investigator of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, give him updates on his case and copies of any decisions adopted in this connection. The request remained without reply.

129. In respect of the applicant’s similar petition of 3 September 2012 requesting information on the outcome of his complaint and a copy of his X-ray examination report, on 19 September 2012 the Ministry of Internal Affairs replied that the investigation was pending and that all necessary measures had been taken in this connection.

130. By his letters of 26 December 2012 and 30 July 2013, the applicant asked the Ministry of Internal Affairs for an update on the status of the investigation; however he received no reply.

131. On 11 October 2013 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Sabail District Court against the Ministry of Internal Affairs in respect of its alleged failure to conduct an investigation into his case. On 18 October 2013 the Sabail District Court rejected the complaint as inadmissible, and held that this complaint should have been examined in the framework of the administrative proceedings.

132. On 29 October 2013 the applicant appealed against this decision to the Baku Court of Appeal, complaining that the first-instance court had unlawfully refused to hear his case and that contrary to the court’s finding his complaint should not be examined within administrative proceedings.

133. On 6 November 2013 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed the applicant’s complaint, upholding the decision of the first-instance court.

H. The eighth applicant, Mr Guliyev

1. Alleged attack on the eighth applicant

134. The eighth applicant was a journalist and head of the Azerbaijani bureau of the radio station Voice of America.

135. On 20 February 2014 a number of students of Baku State University (“BSU”) held a demonstration to protest against the introduction of some reforms to the education system in the university. The eighth applicant, together with two other journalists, R.A. and E.B., was present at the demonstration to report on it. He was wearing a press card on his chest.

136. According to the applicant, at around 1.30 p.m., when the eighth applicant was recording the dispersal of the demonstration, the head of the security service of BSU, M.H., punched and kicked him on his back, legs and head several times and pushed his camera away. In response, the eighth applicant turned back towards M.H., asking him the reason for beating him. M.H. pushed him and his camera away. The applicant submitted that police officers had been present at the demonstration.

2. Remedies used by the eighth applicant

137. On an unspecified date the eighth applicant and two other journalists, R.A. and E.B., lodged a joint criminal complaint with the Yasamal district prosecutor’s office, alleging that physical force and psychological pressure had been used against them during the demonstration and requesting that a criminal case be opened in that connection.

138. Yasamal district police office launched a criminal inquiry into the case and transferred the case to the Yasamal district prosecutor’s office. During questioning, the eighth applicant stated that he had been beaten up by M.H. while covering the demonstration as a journalist and that the police had failed to protect him. He also submitted a video recording in which he asked M.H. the reason for beating him and M.H. pushed him away while trying to get his camera from him.

139. In his statement to the investigator R.A. mentioned that he had seen M.H. push the eighth applicant and kick him on his back and try to take his camera away, and that the police officers observing this had not taken any action in this connection.

140. In his statement to the investigator, E.B. stated that BSU’s security‑service employees had tried to disperse the journalists by pushing them away and applying physical force. He had witnessed the eighth applicant arguing with M.H. about being beaten by him.

141. In his statement M.H. mentioned that he had never seen the eighth applicant nor inflicted any physical force on him and that on the contrary, at the material time, the journalists had been inciting the participants of the demonstration to breach public order. BSU’s security-service employees, Z.M., J.I., S.A., Y.Q. and N.G., stated during questioning that M.H. had not used physical force against the applicant. According to Z.M., the eighth applicant had possibly received the injury through contact with the metal fence surrounding the BSU campus.

142. On 19 March 2014 the eighth applicant was examined by a forensic medical expert. The report noted the following:

“… There is a pigmentation area measuring 4 by 3 cm on the outer side of the lower third of the right calf. No other injuries were noted on the body …

Conclusion

1. There is a bruise on the person of [the applicant]. The above-mentioned injury was caused by a hard blunt object(s). It could have been inflicted at the time indicated in the descriptive part of the decision, namely on 20 February 2014. The degree of the injury has not been determined because it has not caused harm to health.

2. Taking into consideration the characteristics of the injury it could not have been inflicted by [the applicant] himself.”

143. Following the attack, the eighth applicant’s health deteriorated and he sought medical assistance for the pain in his legs and lower torso that he had never experienced before. On 10 April 2014 he underwent herniated‑disk surgery in hospital. According to the medical certificate of 6 June 2014 issued by the hospital, the alleged trauma the applicant had received on 20 February 2014 could have been an aggravating cause of the herniated-disk problems.

144. At an unspecified time the eighth applicant asked the prosecutor’s office to order a new forensic medical examination to identify the impact of the beating on the further deterioration of his health resulting in herniated‑disk surgery. He was examined by a forensic medical expert, who was tasked with identifying the causes and timing of the herniated-disc problems, and whether they could have been caused by the alleged ill‑treatment of 20 February 2014. The forensic medical report of 9 June 2014 reads as follows:

“1. There is no causal link between the disk hernia and the injury to the applicant’s right calf inflicted on 20 February 2014;

2. It is not convincing that the disc hernia could have been caused when [the applicant] was herded from one side to another with the group [during the dispersal of demonstration] and when the injury on his right calf was inflicted on 20 February 2014 …”

145. By a decision of 9 June 2014 the Yasamal district prosecutor’s office refused to open a criminal case on the grounds that there had been no criminal offence in the actions of M.H., since it was not proven that physical force had been applied to the eighth applicant. The court relied on the testimonies of the eighth applicant and the security guards of BSU and the forensic reports of 19 March and 9 June 2014.

146. On an unspecified date in November 2014 the eighth applicant lodged a complaint with the Yasamal District Court against the decision to refuse to open a criminal case. He pointed out that the prosecutor’s office had not properly assessed the evidence in the case, in particular the video recording and the findings of the relevant medical reports.

147. On 8 December 2014 the Yasamal District Court dismissed the eighth applicant’s complaint, finding the impugned decision lawful. The eighth applicant appealed.

148. In his appeal of 19 December 2014 the eighth applicant reiterated his previous complaints, adding that the first-instance court had refused to examine witnesses on his behalf.

149. On 29 December 2014 the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed the eight applicant’s appeal and upheld the first-instance court’s decision.

II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW

150. The relevant domestic law concerning the criminal responsibility for physical violence is summarised in the case of Uzeyir Jafarov v. Azerbaijan (no. 54204/08, § 34, 29 January 2015).

151. In accordance with Article 172 § 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (“the CCP”), the first-instance court must examine a civil case and deliver a judgment or a decision within three months of the date the civil action was lodged with the court. Pursuant to Article 172 § 2 of the CCP, cases concerning the actions of State authorities and officials must be examined within a month.

THE LAW

I. JOINDER OF THE APPLICATIONS

152. Having regard to the similar subject matter of the applications, the Court finds it appropriate to examine them jointly in a single judgment in accordance with Rule 42 § 1 of the Rules of Court.

II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 3 OF THE CONVENTION

153. All applicants, save the first applicant, complained that they had been ill-treated. All applicants further complained that the domestic authorities had failed to investigate their allegations of ill-treatment. The applicants relied on Article 3 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

A. Admissibility

154. The Government submitted that the third and fourth applicants had not been diligent and had failed to lodge their applications with the Court until 27 August and 4 October 2011 respectively, that is to say thirteen and twelve months after they had lodged their latest complaints with the domestic authorities.

155. The applicants contested the Government’s submissions, stating that they had complied with the six-month rule.

156. The Court notes that the third applicant lodged an application with the Court on 12 April 2011, a year and four months after he had lodged a criminal complaint with the prosecuting authorities. The Court further notes that the fourth applicant lodged an application with the Court on 7 October 2011, a year and ten months after he had lodged his criminal complaint with the prosecuting authorities.

157. In the light of the general principles reflected in Mocanu and Others v. Romania ([GC], nos. 10865/09, 45886/07 and 32431/08, §§ 258‑269, ECHR 2014), the Court notes that the third and fourth applicants availed themselves of an apparently existing remedy in the present cases. In this connection, the Court reiterates that the applicants applied promptly to the domestic authorities, having fulfilled the first aspect of the duty of diligence (see ibid., § 265). As regards the second aspect of this duty of diligence – that is to say the duty on the applicants to lodge an application with the Court as soon as they realise, or ought to have realised, that the investigation is not effective – the Court has stated that the issue of identifying the exact point in time that this stage occurs necessarily depends on the circumstances of the case and that it is difficult to determine it with precision (see, ibid., § 266). The Court notes that the applicants took steps to keep track of the investigation’s progress, or lack thereof. Having regard to the period during which the applicants complained to the relevant prosecuting authorities, which lasted approximately a year and half, the Court notes that there had not been excessive or unexplained delay on the part of applicants once they had, or ought to have, become aware that no investigation had been instigated or that the investigation had lapsed into inaction or become ineffective and, in any of those eventualities, there was no immediate, realistic prospect of an effective investigation being provided in the future.

158. Accordingly, the Court considers that the third and fourth applicants complied with the six-month requirement.

159. The Court notes that the complaints are not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that they are not inadmissible on any other grounds. They must therefore be declared admissible.

B. Merits

1. Alleged failure to carry out an effective investigation

(a) The parties’ submissions

160. The applicants maintained their complaints.

161. The Government submitted that the domestic authorities have conducted an effective investigation into the applicants’ allegations of ill‑treatment.

(b) The Court’s assessment

162. The Court refers to the principles established in its case‑law as to the procedural limb of Article 3 set out in the El-Masri and O’Keeffe judgments (see El‑Masri v. the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, no. 39630/09, §§ 182‑85, ECHR 2012, and O’Keeffe v. Ireland [GC], no. 35810/09, § 172, ECHR 2014 (extracts) respectively), which are equally pertinent to the present cases.

163. The Court notes at the outset that despite its explicit request to the Government, the latter submitted only some copies of the files of the cases of the first, second, third, sixth, and eighth applicants.

164. The Court considers that the applicants’ complaints made before the domestic authorities contained enough specific information – the date, place and nature of the alleged ill-treatment to constitute an arguable claim or a credible assertion in respect of which those authorities were under an obligation to conduct an effective investigation (see, among other authorities, Mammadov and Others v. Azerbaijan, no. 35432/07, § 124, 21 February 2019; Nicolae Virgiliu Tănase v. Romania [GC], no. 41720/13, § 115, 25 June 2019; and Volodina v. Russia, no. 41261/17, § 77, 9 July 2019).

165. The Court notes that the criminal proceedings in each of the present cases have been plagued by a combination of the same or similar defects.

166. To give but a few examples, in the first and seventh applicants’ cases – the only two of the present cases in which the investigating authorities opened criminal proceedings – the investigations did not bring about any developments. In particular, in the first applicant’s case the decision to stay the investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment was followed by a period of inactivity of more than eight years. In this connection, the Court notes that although the first applicant informed the investigating authorities that he was attacked by four people, one of whom, A.N. was a known public figure in Azerbaijan, the investigator merely stayed the whole proceedings without taking any further action at least in respect of the former. Besides, in the seventh applicant’s case, the investigation has been pending for more than six years, without bringing about any significant development. No explanation was given by the Government as to the domestic authorities’ failure to take relevant investigative measures.

167. In the third and fourth applicants’ cases, despite the applicants’ complaints to the domestic authorities containing sufficient specific information, namely the identity of the alleged perpetrators, the date, place and nature of the alleged attack on them, no investigation was launched. The third and fourth applicants were not provided with any information in reply to their complaints and requests in this connection. No explanation was given by the Government as to the domestic authorities’ failure to conduct any investigation into the allegations of ill-treatment (see Jannatov v. Azerbaijan, no. 32132/07, § 53, 31 July 2014).

168. The Court notes that the fifth applicant was only informed by the investigating authority that the criminal inquiry in his case was pending, in particular, that a new examination had been ordered in his case reportedly on account of the shortcomings in the previous inquiry into his claims of ill‑treatment. However, he was not informed of any further progress of his case.

169. Furthermore, the Court observes that despite explicit requests by the applicants, the domestic authorities failed to take all steps reasonably available to them to secure the evidence concerning the attacks. In this connection, the Court notes that in the cases of the third (see paragraph 50 above) and fourth applicants (see paragraph 72 above) no forensic examination took place, and in the case of the eighth applicant the forensic examination was held with a delay of a month (see paragraph 142 above). In the cases of the second (see paragraphs 37 and 43 above), fifth (see paragraph 91 above), sixth (see paragraph 106 above) and eighth applicants (see paragraph 148 above) the eyewitnesses of the alleged ill-treatment were not questioned. The sixth applicant also complained that no face-to-face confrontation had been conducted despite a clear contradiction between his statements and those of the witnesses who had testified against his claims (see paragraph 112 above). In the cases of the second (see paragraph 43 above) and fifth applicants (see paragraph 91 above) the recordings of the security cameras that might have been present in the premises concerned were not obtained or examined.

170. Moreover, the applicants – save the eighth applicant – were not informed of the progress of the investigation in a timely manner or at all, despite their requests and complaints in that connection. Furthermore, they complained that despite their repeated requests and complaints to the relevant authorities they did not have proper access to their case files, in particular, by being denied a copy of the decision to stay the criminal case (the first applicant), or the forensic report and any decision taken within the criminal inquiry (the second applicant), the decision to resume the criminal inquiry (the fifth applicant) and the forensic report and other records in respect of the medical examination (the seventh applicant). Accordingly, the applicants, save the eighth applicant, were deprived of the possibility to acquaint themselves with the progress of the proceedings and to safeguard their procedural interests in an effective manner.

171. The Court also notes that in the second, sixth and eighth applicants’ cases, the domestic authorities, having refused to institute a criminal case, did not provide any or relevant explanation as to why the pieces of evidence in support of the applicants’ claims were considered less credible than, inter alia, the statements of the witnesses against the applicants, in particular the representatives of the State authorities (see Mustafa Hajili v. Azerbaijan, no. 42119/12, § 52, 24 November 2016).

172. The foregoing considerations are sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the investigations of the applicants’ claims of ill-treatment were ineffective. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention under its procedural limb in respect of all applicants.

2. Alleged ill-treatment of the applicants

(a) The parties’ submissions

173. The applicants maintained their complaints.

174. The Government submitted that the applicants had not been subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. In this connection, they mentioned that the applicants, save the fourth applicant, had failed to submit any evidence to show that they had actually been ill-treated. The Government further maintained that the medical documents submitted by the applicants concerned did not indicate any injuries on their persons or causal links between those injuries and the alleged incidents.

175. The Government further submitted in respect of the second applicant that as a result of forensic medical examination no injury had been established, only “the post-traumatic area of deformation caused by an old fracture of a bone in his right hand that had already healed” had been noted. The Government also stated that the forensic report was not reliable as medical evidence, because it had neither properly identified the date the injuries had been sustained, nor had it attempted to establish their cause.

(b) The Court’s assessment

176. The Court refers to the principles established in its case‑law as to the substantive limb of Article 3 set out in the Bouyid and O’Keeffe judgments (see Bouyid v. Belgium [GC], no. 23380/09, §§ 81-88, ECHR 2015, and O’Keeffe, cited above, § 144 respectively), which are equally pertinent to the present cases.

(i) In respect of the second applicant

177. The second applicant presented a very detailed description of his allegation of ill-treatment by the police. Although he underwent the forensic medical examination on 17 January 2009, ten days after the incident, he never received a copy of the forensic report, but was informed that a forensic examination had not established any bodily injury, only “the post‑traumatic area of deformation caused by an old fracture of a bone in his right hand that had already healed”. In their submissions before the Court, the Government questioned the reliability of the forensic report, claiming that it had not properly identified the date of sustaining the injuries and had not attempted to establish their cause, in particular, it had not explained the possibility of a fracture healing in ten days. The second applicant did not submit any other evidence to the Court, such as photographs, confirming the presence of any injury on his person (see Jannatov, cited above, § 59).

178. In these circumstances, having regard to the parties’ submissions and all the material in its possession, the Court considers that the evidence before it does not enable it to find beyond reasonable doubt that the second applicant was subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 during his coverage of the assembly on 7 January 2009, as alleged.

179. The Court would, however, like to underline that its inability to reach any conclusions as to whether there has been, in substance, treatment prohibited by Article 3 of the Convention derives, at least in part, from the failure of the domestic authorities to react effectively to the second applicant’s complaints at the relevant time (see Gharibashvili v. Georgia, no. 11830/03, § 57, 29 July 2008, and Lopata v. Russia, no. 72250/01, § 125, 13 July 2010).

180. Consequently, the Court cannot establish a substantive violation of Article 3 of the Convention in respect of the second applicant’s alleged ill‑treatment.

(ii) In respect of the third applicant

181. The third applicant complained that he had allegedly sustained injuries on his face as a result of an attack against him (see paragraph 47 above). However, he claimed that the investigator had failed to order a forensic examination to document those injuries. Moreover, the third applicant did not submit a medical certificate to the Court, alleging the failure of the physician who had treated him to provide him with such a document. In support of his claim the third applicant submitted a photo of him that had allegedly been taken in the immediate aftermath of the alleged incident and that had been published in media outlets.

182. Furthermore, the third applicant alleged to have identified that I.I. had attacked him, claiming that the attack had been supported by the State authorities as part of the physical and verbal abuse campaign against journalists critical of the Government. The Court reiterates that whether a person is an agent of the State for the purposes of the Convention is defined on the basis of a multitude of factors, none of which is determinative on its own. The key criteria used to determine whether the State is responsible for the acts of a person, whether formally a public official or not, are as follows: manner of appointment, supervision and accountability, objectives, powers and functions of the person in question (see, among other authorities, Chernega and Others v. Ukraine, no. 74768/10, §§ 126-27, 18 June 2019). Given the information in its possession and due to the domestic authorities’ failure to carry out an investigation at the material time, the Court is not in a position to determine whether State agents were behind the alleged attack on the third applicant nor whether it was State agents who subjected him to the alleged violence (see Uzeyir Jafarov v. Azerbaijan (no. 54204/08, §§ 58‑62, 29 January 2015)).

183. Accordingly, the Court considers that the above-mentioned evidence placed before it does not enable it to find beyond reasonable doubt that the third applicant was subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 by State agents.

(iii) In respect of the fourth applicant

184. The fourth applicant complained that he had been attacked on 14 December 2009. In this connection, he submitted a medical certificate, issued following a medical examination by a private physician on 24 December 2009, which established that he had sustained contusion of the soft tissues of the left part of his chest.

185. The Government did not put forward any explanation by producing any evidence likely to cast doubt on the fourth applicant’s account of events nor did they submit copies of any documents from the fourth applicant’s case file to the Court. In this connection, the Court cannot overlook the fact that the investigating authorities did not respond to the fourth applicant’s criminal complaint and no criminal investigation was carried out in the instant case into his allegation of ill-treatment.

186. However, the Court notes that the fourth applicant complained that he had been attacked by the deputy head of the Nakchivan State University, M.R., and the representative of the Yeni Azerbaijan political party (the ruling party) in that university, E.J. He further claimed that he had later been beaten by up to forty students of the sports faculty of Nakchivan State University on the orders of M.R. and E.J. Given the information in its possession and due to the domestic authorities’ failure to carry out an effective investigation at the material time, the Court cannot determine the persons allegedly involved in the attack against the fourth applicant, that is, whether State agents were behind the attack on the fourth applicant and whether it was State agents who subjected the fourth applicant to the alleged violence (see Uzeyir Jafarov, cited above, §§ 58‑62, and Chernega and Others, cited above, § 153).

187. Accordingly, the Court considers that the above-mentioned evidence placed before it does not enable it to find beyond reasonable doubt that the fourth applicant was subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 by State agents.

(iv) In respect of the fifth and sixth applicants

188. The fifth and sixth applicants presented detailed descriptions of their allegations of ill-treatment by the relevant representatives of the State authorities while reporting on the gatherings and events (see paragraphs 86‑89 and 101-03 above). Their accounts of the alleged ill‑treatment had remained detailed, specific and consistent throughout the proceedings and supported, according to the case files, by witness statements.

189. The fifth applicant, who complained that he was attacked by the police officers, one of whom hit his leg, as a result of which he fell to the ground, did not submit to the Court any other evidence such as photographs or video recordings confirming that he had been subjected to ill-treatment by the police.

190. The sixth applicant has not presented any medical evidence in support of his allegations of the ill-treatment with potentially visible consequences (see Jannatov, cited above, § 59), complaining that by the time the forensic medical examination was ordered, twenty days after his initial complaint of ill-treatment, the injuries on his person had allegedly disappeared (see paragraph 106 above).

191. While the Court has underlined the importance of medical evidence on many occasions, it has accepted, albeit in exceptional circumstances, that the applicant has made a prima facie case of a violation of Article 3 even in the absence of the medical evidence in view of all the evidence before it. In such cases the Court emphasized the importance of the applicant’s detailed statements about the incidents, which consistently support his or her allegations of ill-treatment as well as the reaction of the authorities (see Mammadov and Others, cited above, § 112).

192. Moreover, despite the Court’s explicit request to the Government to submit copies of all the documents relating to the domestic proceedings, the Government failed to provide it with any copies of documents in respect of the fifth applicant’s case. As regards the sixth applicant, the Government submitted only some copies from his case file.

193. In these circumstances, having regard to the parties’ submissions and all the material in its possession, the Court considers that the evidence before it does not enable it to find beyond reasonable doubt that the fifth and sixth applicants were subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention, as alleged.

194. The Court would, however, like to underline that its inability to reach any conclusions as to whether there has been, in substance, treatment prohibited by Article 3 of the Convention derives, at least in part, from the failure of the domestic authorities to react effectively to the fifth and sixth applicants’ complaints at the relevant time (see Gharibashvili, cited above, § 57, and Lopata, cited above, § 125).

195. Consequently, the Court cannot establish a substantive violation of Article 3 of the Convention in respect of the fifth and sixth applicants’ alleged ill-treatment.

(v) In respect of the seventh applicant

196. The seventh applicant complained that he had been ill-treated while covering the event on 18 April 2012. In this connection, the Court notes that it is undisputed that on that date the seventh applicant was at the scene of the event and was hospitalised and underwent inpatient treatment for twelve days in hospital. According to the medical certificate provided by the hospital, the seventh applicant sustained various serious injuries (see paragraph 121 above). The applicant also complained that he had undergone eye surgery as a result of the injuries sustained.

197. The Government did not produce any case-file documents in respect of the seventh applicant’s case, including a copy of the forensic report, established following a medical examination of the seventh applicant. In this connection, the seventh applicant submitted that despite his requests, he had not been provided with a copy of the forensic report or of the findings of his X-ray examination at the hospital on 18 April 2012.

198. The Government did not put forward any explanation by producing any evidence likely to cast doubt on the seventh applicant’s account of events. In this connection, the Court cannot overlook the fact that the investigation into the seventh applicant’s complaints of ill-treatment has been pending without any development. In these circumstances, the Court considers that the respondent Government have failed to discharge their burden of proof and to submit a plausible explanation refuting the seventh applicant’s account of events and the medical evidence submitted.

199. Therefore, the Court has no reason to doubt the seventh applicant’s account of events and finds that the injuries found on his body were sustained as a result of the attack on 18 April 2012, as alleged.

200. The seventh applicant complained that he had been attacked by security guards of State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (“SOCAR”) and that the police officers present at the scene failed to prevent and stop the attacks against him and prevented his colleagues from helping him (see paragraph 119 above). The Government did not make any comment in that connection. According to the case file (see paragraph 125 above), on the day of the alleged incident “the officers of SOCAR’s Security Department and Binagadi district police office conducted a joint operation to demolish the houses” on land owned by SOCAR. SOCAR is an oil company wholly owned by the State. The case file does not contain any further information as regards the status of SOCAR’s security guards, whose coercive authority is in issue in the present case. The Court cannot therefore establish that the alleged action of the security guards can be considered attributable to the respondent State (compare, Chernega and Others, cited above, § 153).

201. These considerations, however, do not suffice to absolve the State from responsibility under the Convention for the actions of SOCAR’s security guards. The State authorities have to discharge their positive obligations under Article 1 of the Convention, read in conjunction with Article 3, to ensure that individuals within their jurisdiction are protected against all forms of ill-treatment, including where such treatment is administered by private individuals and it includes the obligation to take the reasonable measures that might have been expected in order to avert a real and immediate risk of ill-treatment of which the authorities knew or ought to have known. The case-file material shows that during the abovementioned joint operation with SOCAR’s Security Department the police officers of the Binagadi district police office were present at the place of incident and appeared to have remained passive in the face of the actions of SOCAR’s security guards against the seventh applicant. Accordingly, the police officers failed to prevent or stop the ill-treatment of the seventh applicant and the agents of SOCAR, even if not representing the State themselves, acted with the State’s acquiescence or connivance, which makes the State directly responsible for the treatment complained of (see Cyprus v. Turkey [GC], no. 25781/94, § 81, ECHR 2001‑IV; Begheluri and Others v. Georgia, no. 28490/02, § 145, 7 October 2014; and Chernega and Others, cited above, §§ 125-131).

202. The Court finds that such ill-treatment resulted in injuries which undoubtedly caused severe pain and mental suffering to the seventh applicant, of a nature amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment.

203. Accordingly, there has been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention under its substantive limb in respect of the seventh applicant.

(vi) In respect of the eighth applicant

204. The eighth applicant complained that he had been attacked on 20 February 2014 and produced evidence in support of his complaint. In this connection, the existence of a bruise on the eighth applicant’s right calf was established by the forensic report dated 19 March 2014. This report concluded that the injury could have been inflicted by a hard blunt object on 20 February 2014 (see paragraph 142 above). The eighth applicant also produced video footage, taken in the immediate aftermath of the alleged incident, in which he could be seen enquiring of the security guard for what reason he was beating him. Furthermore, he produced the statements of two witnesses supporting his version of the events. The Government contended that the injuries might have been inflicted as a result of the eighth applicant’s body coming into contact with the metal fence surrounding the university. The evidence produced before the Court is sufficiently strong and consistent to establish at least a presumption that the eighth applicant was beaten up by the head of the security service during the dispersal of the demonstration. In the Court’s opinion, neither the Government in their submissions, nor the domestic authorities in their decisions, provided a convincing rebuttal of this presumption.

205. The eighth applicant complained that he had been attacked by the head of the security service of the Baku State University (the BSU). However, the case file does not contain any information as to the status of the BSU’s head of the security service, whose coercive authority is in issue in the present case. Even though this is a state university, in the present case this information alone is not sufficient to attribute the responsibility to the respondent State. Given the domestic authorities’ failure to carry out an effective investigation at the relevant time and in view of all the material in its possession, the Court cannot address the question of whether State agents were behind the attack on the eighth applicant and whether it was State agents who subjected him to the alleged violence (contrast Uzeyir Jafarov, cited above, §§ 58-62, and Chernega and Others, cited above, §§ 125-131). Therefore, the Court finds that, in view of the above, the alleged action of the security guard cannot be considered attributable to the respondent State.

206. Furthermore, the Court observes that the eighth applicant made a general remark in the domestic proceedings that there were police officers at the place of incident involving the BSU’s head of the security service (see paragraphs 138-39 above). However, as no evidence has been submitted to the effect that during the attack in question, representatives of the State were either present at the scene, or failed promptly and effectively to respond to immediate call for help, the Court cannot conclude, in the particular circumstances of this attack, that the State failed to prevent or stop the violence against the eighth applicant.

207. The Court would, however, like to underline that its inability to reach any conclusions as to whether there has been, in substance, treatment prohibited by Article 3 of the Convention derives, at least in part, from the failure of the domestic authorities to react effectively to the eighth applicant’s complaint at the relevant time (see Gharibashvili v. Georgia, cited above, § 57, and Lopata v. Russia, cited above, § 125).

208. Accordingly, the Court considers that the above-mentioned evidence placed before it does not enable it to find beyond reasonable doubt that the eighth applicant was subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 by State agents.

(c) Conclusion

209. The Court establishes a substantive violation of Article 3 of the Convention in respect of the seventh applicant and no violation in respect of the other applicants.

III. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 13 OF THE CONVENTION IN CONJUNCTION WITH ARTICLE 3 OF THE CONVENTION

210. Relying on Article 13 of the Convention, the applicants, save the eighth applicant, complained of the lack of effective remedies in respect of their complaints under Article 3 of the Convention. Article 13 of the Convention reads as follows:

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”

211. The Government did not make any specific observations in this regard.

212. The Court notes that these complaints are linked to the ones examined above and must therefore likewise be declared admissible.

213. Having regard to the findings relating to the procedural limb of Article 3, the Court considers that it is not necessary to examine whether, in these cases, there has been a violation of Article 13 of the Convention (see, among other authorities, Velikanov v. Russia, no. 4124/08, § 70, 30 January 2014).

IV. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 10 OF THE CONVENTION

214. The applicants complained that there had been a violation of their freedom of expression in that they had been attacked because of their journalistic activities and that the authorities had failed to assess their complaints in this regard. The applicants relied on Article 10 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent states from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

A. Admissibility

215. The Court notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

B. Merits

1. The parties’ submissions

216. The applicants maintained their complaints.

217. The Government submitted that the applicants’ right to freedom of expression had not been violated. There had been no interference with the applicants’ freedom of expression on account of alleged ill-treatment. The applicants had not showed diligence in pursuing their complaints before the national authorities. The Government further noted that the national courts had duly examined the applicants’ claims in compliance with the domestic legislation and the Convention.

2. The Court’s assessment

218. The Court notes at the outset that the applicants, who made ill‑treatment claims, were journalists reporting on various events and gatherings. The Court has frequently stressed the fundamental role of freedom of expression in a democratic society, in particular where, through the press, it serves to impart information and ideas of general interest which the public is, moreover, entitled to receive (see, for example, Observer and Guardian v. the United Kingdom, 26 November 1991, § 59, Series A no. 216). The Court also reiterates that the key importance of freedom of expression as one of the preconditions for a functioning democracy is such that the genuine, effective exercise of this freedom is not dependent merely on the State’s duty not to interfere, but may call for positive measures of protection, even in the sphere of relations between individuals (see Özgür Gündem v. Turkey, no. 23144/93, § 43, ECHR 2000‑III). In particular, the positive obligations under Article 10 of the Convention require States to create a favourable environment for participation in public debate by all the persons concerned, enabling them to express their opinions and ideas without fear (see Dink v. Turkey, nos. 2668/07, 6102/08, 30079/08, 7072/09 and 7124/09, § 137, 14 September 2010). It cannot be disputed that the physical ill-treatment of journalists while the latter are performing their professional duties seriously hampers their exercise of the right to receive and impart information.

219. The Court will proceed to examine each application in turn.

(a) In respect of the seventh applicant

220. As established above, the seventh applicant was subjected to ill‑treatment in breach of Article 3 of the Convention (see paragraph 203 above). He was a journalist at the material time and was wearing a special vest while reporting on the event.

221. Having had regard to the parties’ submissions and the circumstances of the present case, the Court considers that the entirety of the seventh applicant’s complaint falls to be examined from the standpoint of the positive obligations of the respondent State under Article 10 of the Convention.

222. In that connection, the Court reiterates that the State was responsible for the seventh applicant’s ill-treatment because of the police officers’ failure to stop the ill-treatment and protect him (see paragraph 201 above).

223. Furthermore, as the Court has found above, although the prosecuting authorities launched a criminal investigation in connection with the acts committed against the seventh applicant, the case file does not suggest any progress in the criminal investigation (see paragraph 166 above).

224. The Court also takes note of its relevant case law in respect of Azerbaijan under Article 10 of the Convention (see, among others, Mahmudov and Agazade v. Azerbaijan, no. 35877/04, 18 December 2008; Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan, no. 40984/07, 22 April 2010; Najafli v. Azerbaijan, no. 2594/07, 2 October 2012; Khadija Ismayilova v. Azerbaijan, nos. 65286/13 and 57270/14, 10 January 2019; and Tagiyev and Huseynov v. Azerbaijan, no. 13274/08, 5 December 2019) and the reports of physical attacks and other types of alleged persecution of journalists, and the perceived climate of impunity for such acts, as those responsible were reportedly rarely, if ever, brought to justice. It also reiterates its concern that such an environment may produce a grave chilling effect on freedom of expression, including on the “public watchdog” role of journalists and other media actors and on open and vigorous public debate, all of which are essential in a democratic society (see, among others, Khadija Ismayilova, cited above, § 161).

225. In such circumstances, having regard to the reports on the general situation concerning freedom of expression in the country (ibid., § 161) and the particular circumstances of the present case, the Court considers that the acts resulting in ill-treatment of the seventh applicant were either linked to his journalistic activity or should have been treated by the authorities when investigating as if they might have been so linked. In this situation Article 10 of the Convention required the respondent State to take positive measures to protect the seventh applicant’s journalistic freedom of expression as well.

226. It follows that the respondent State has failed to comply with its positive obligation to protect him in the exercise of his freedom of expression. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention in respect of the seventh applicant.

(b) In respect of the other applicants

227. The Court notes that the present cases should be distinguished from the above application in respect of the seventh applicant in which it has been established that the latter was subjected to the use of force in breach of Article 3 of the Convention by a State agent (compare Uzeyir Jafarov, cited above, § 69). In the present cases, although the Court found a violation of Article 3 of the Convention under its procedural limb, it was not possible to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the applicants were subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 as alleged and/or that the State agents were behind the alleged attack on them (see paragraphs 178, 182, 186, 193 and 206).

228. In view of the above and of the complaint as submitted by the applicants (see paragraph 214 above), the only issue the Court is required to deal with under Article 10 of the Convention is that of establishing whether or not the applicants’ right to freedom of expression had been violated on account of the domestic authorities’ failure to conduct an effective investigation into the alleged attack on them. However, the applicants’ allegations in this respect arise out of the same facts as those already examined under Article 3 of the Convention and the Court has already found a violation of Article 3 under its procedural limb because of the ineffectiveness of the investigation into the alleged attack on the applicants concerned (see Uzeyir Jafarov, cited above, § 71).

229. Having regard to those findings, the Court considers that the complaints of the applicants concerned under Article 10 of the Convention raise no separate issue and, that being so, it is not necessary to examine those complaints separately.

V. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 OF THE CONVENTION

230. The fourth applicant complained that he had been denied access to the Nakchivan District Court, which had refused to examine his civil claim of 2 July 2010. He relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations … everyone is entitled to a fair … hearing … by [a] … tribunal established by law.”

A. Admissibility

231. The Government submitted that the complaint was manifestly ill‑founded.

232. The fourth applicant maintained his complaint.

233. The Court notes that neither party disputed the applicability of Article 6 § 1 under its civil limb and it sees no reason to hold otherwise (see, among other authorities, Helmers v. Sweden, 29 October 1991, §§ 27‑30, Series A no. 212‑A, and Zollmann v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 62902/00, ECHR 2003-XII).

234. The Court further notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill‑founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

B. Merits

235. The fourth applicant maintained his complaint, arguing that the domestic courts had denied him access to a court.

236. The Government relied on their observations in respect of Article 3 of the Convention.

237. The Court reiterates that the right of access to a court by its very nature calls for regulation by the State and may be subject to limitations. Nevertheless, the limitations applied must not restrict the access left to the individual in such a way or to such an extent that the very essence of the right is impaired (see, among other authorities, Kreuz v. Poland, no. 28249/95, §§ 52-57, ECHR 2001-VI, and Liakopoulou v. Greece, no. 20627/04, §§ 19-25, 24 May 2006).

238. The Court notes that the fourth applicant claimed that the Nakchivan District Court received his civil claim of 2 July 2010, however, it refused to examine it. The Court observes that the fourth applicant submitted a copy of his civil claim of 2 July 2010 and his further complaints, in which the document on proof of delivery of the claim to the Nakchivan District Court was mentioned as having been enclosed. The Government did not submit any comments or case material in that connection.

239. In accordance with Article 172 of the CCP, the first-instance court had to examine a civil case and deliver a decision or a judgment within one to three months of the date of the receipt of the civil action by the court (see paragraph 151 above).

240. In such circumstances, the Court considers it established that the Nakchivan District Court refused to accept the fourth applicant’s claim of 2 July 2010 for examination. Such a refusal constituted a serious restriction on the fourth applicant’s right of access to a court.

241. Despite the fourth applicant’s queries in this connection, the domestic authorities gave no explanation as to the reasons for which the fourth applicant’s civil claim of 2 July 2010 had not been accepted for examination, which was contrary to domestic law. The Government did not advance any justification for the domestic authorities’ actions despite the Court’s query in that connection.

242. In the absence of any explanation for the restriction imposed on the fourth applicant’s right of access to a court in the civil proceedings, the Court finds that such a situation amounted to a denial of justice which impaired the very essence of the fourth applicant’s right of access to court secured by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. There has, accordingly, been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in respect of the fourth applicant.

VI. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 8 OF THE CONVENTION

243. The fourth applicant complained of a violation of his right to respect for his private life on account of the defamatory article about him and that the domestic courts had refused to examine his complaint in this regard. He relied on Article 8 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

“1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

244. The Government submitted that the fourth applicant’s complaints under Article 8 of the Convention should be examined together with his complaints under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. They further submitted that the fourth applicant did not substantiate his allegations under Article 8 of the Convention.

245. Having regard to the facts of the case, the submissions of the parties and its findings under Article 6 of the Convention (see paragraph 242 above), the Court considers that there is no need to give a separate ruling on the admissibility and the merits of the complaint under Article 8 of the Convention.

VII. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 38 OF THE CONVENTION

246. The applicants, save the eighth applicant, submitted in their replies to the Government’s observations that the Government’s failure to submit copies of additional documents from the case files which had been in their exclusive possession had amounted to a violation of Article 38 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

“The Court shall examine the case together with the representatives of the parties and, if need be, undertake an investigation, for the effective conduct of which the High Contracting Parties concerned shall furnish all necessary facilities.”

247. The Government submitted some copies from the case files in respect of the cases of the first, second, third, sixth, and eighth applicants. Furthermore, the applicants submitted numerous documents from the case files and no specific requests to produce additional documents were made to the Government, apart from the usual practice that requires a party to produce the necessary evidence, including copies of the documents on which it relies.

248. The Court reiterates that it is of the utmost importance for the effective operation of the system of individual petition instituted under Article 34 of the Convention that States should furnish all necessary facilities to make possible a proper and effective examination of applications. This obligation requires the Contracting States to furnish all necessary facilities to the Court, whether it is conducting a fact-finding investigation or performing its general duties as regards the examination of applications. A failure on a government’s part to submit such information which is in their hands without a satisfactory explanation may not only give rise to the drawing of inferences as to the well-foundedness of the applicant’s allegations, but may also reflect negatively on the level of compliance by a respondent State with its obligations under Article 38 of the Convention (see Janowiec and Others v. Russia [GC], nos. 55508/07 and 29520/09, § 202, ECHR 2013).

249. The Court notes that despite its explicit request to the Government, the latter submitted only some copies of from the files of the first, second, third, sixth, and eighth applicants while no case-file documents were produced with respect to the seventh applicant. However, having regard to its findings reached in the present cases, the Court finds that the incompleteness of certain documents and information did not prevent it from examining the cases concerned (see Giuliani and Gaggio v. Italy [GC], no. 23458/02, § 343-44, ECHR 2011 (extracts), and Gakayeva and Others v. Russia, nos. 51534/08 and 9 others, § 388, 10 October 2013)

250. There has accordingly been no failure to comply with Article 38 of the Convention.

VIII. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION

251. Article 41 of the Convention provides:

“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”

A. Damage

1. Pecuniary damage

252. The eighth applicant claimed 800 Azerbaijani manats (AZN) for the surgical operation and 150-200 euros (EUR) for semi-annual medical check-ups.

253. The Government contested the claim, noting that the eighth applicant had failed to substantiate his claims. They submitted that there was no causal link between the alleged violation and the surgical operation the eighth applicant had undergone two months after the alleged attack and that the eighth applicant had failed to produce any documentary proof in support of his claim in respect of semi-annual medical examinations.

254. The Court does not discern sufficient causal link between the violation found and the pecuniary damage alleged. It therefore rejects the eighth applicant’s claim in respect of pecuniary damage.

2. Non-pecuniary damage

255. The first applicant claimed EUR 30,000 and the second applicant EUR 40,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage. The third, fourth and eighth applicants each claimed EUR 35,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage. The fifth applicant claimed EUR 10,000, the sixth applicant EUR 12,000 and the seventh applicant EUR 45,000 in respect of non‑pecuniary damage.

256. The Government submitted that the amounts claimed by the applicants were unsubstantiated and excessive. They further submitted that finding a violation in the present cases would constitute sufficient reparation in respect of the applicants’ claims.

257. The Court considers that the applicants have suffered non‑pecuniary damage which cannot be compensated for solely by the finding of a violation, and that compensation should thus be awarded. Making its assessment on an equitable basis, as required by Article 41 of the Convention, the Court awards the seventh applicant the sum of EUR 15,000, the fourth applicant the sum of EUR 9,750 and the first, second, third, fifth, sixth, eighth applicants the sum of EUR 7,500 each under this head, plus any tax that may be chargeable on those amounts.

B. Costs and expenses

258. The first applicant claimed EUR 5,476 for legal services incurred in the proceedings before the domestic courts and the Court. The second applicant claimed EUR 5,040, the third applicant EUR 6,142, the forth applicant EUR 5,015, the fifth applicant EUR 6,145, the sixth applicant EUR 5,241 and the seventh applicant EUR 5,236 for legal services incurred in the proceedings before the domestic courts and the Court. The eighth applicant claimed EUR 2,700 for legal services incurred in the proceedings before the Court and EUR 630 for translation fees and postal costs. The applicants submitted the relevant contracts concluded with their representatives in support of their claims.

259. The Government considered that the amounts claimed by the applicants were unsubstantiated and excessive. In that connection, the Government asked the Court to apply a strict approach in respect of the applicants’ claims. They further asked the Court to take into consideration the fact that the first and second applicants were represented before the Court by the same lawyers, Mr R. Hajili and Mr F. Namazli. The Government also submitted that the third, fourth, fifth and sixth applicants were represented before the Court by the same lawyers, Mr R. Hajili and Ms Z. Sadigova, who had made identical submissions.

260. According to the Court’s case-law, an applicant is entitled to the reimbursement of costs and expenses only in so far as it has been shown that these have been actually and necessarily incurred and are reasonable as to quantum. In that connection, the Court notes that the seventh applicant’s belated submissions with regard to the services provided by his representatives, Mr P. Leach, Ms J. Gavron and Ms R. Remezaite, in the proceedings before the Court were not admitted to the file. The Court also rejects the seventh applicant’s claim in respect of the legal services of Mr E. Sadigov, since according to the case file Mr E. Sadigov never represented him in the proceedings before the Court. Therefore, the Court allows the seventh applicant’s claims concerning legal services provided by Mr R. Hajili. Furthermore, the Court rejects the eighth applicant’s claim in respect of translation fees and postal costs for lack of proper substantiation and itemisation.

261. Having regard to the documents in its possession and to its case‑law, the Court considers it reasonable to award the following amounts covering costs under all heads, plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicants:

‑ EUR 3,000 to each of the first, second, fourth and fifth applicants, to be paid into their representatives’ bank accounts;

‑ EUR 2,000 to each of the third and eighth applicants, to be paid into their representatives’ bank accounts;

‑ EUR 3,500 to the sixth applicant, to be paid into his representatives’ bank accounts; and

‑ EUR 2,000 to the seventh applicant, to be paid into his representative’s (Mr R.Hajili) bank account.

C. Default interest

262. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest rate should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.

FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,

1. Decides to join the applications;

2. Declares the complaints under Articles 3, 6 § 1, 10 and 13 of the Convention admissible and the remainder of the applications inadmissible;

3. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention under its substantive limb in respect of the seventh applicant;

4. Holds that there has been no violation of Article 3 of the Convention under its substantive limb in respect of the remaining applicants concerned;

5. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention under its procedural limb in respect of all the applicants;

6. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention in respect of the seventh applicant;

7. Holds that there is no need to examine the complaints under Article 10 of the Convention in respect of the remaining applicants;

8. Holds that there is no need to examine the complaints under Article 13 of the Convention in conjunction with Article 3 of the Convention in respect of the first seven applicants;

9. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in respect of the fourth applicant;

10. Holds that there is no need to examine separately the admissibility and the merits of the complaint under Article 8 of the Convention in respect of the fourth applicant;

11. Holds that there has been no failure to comply with Article 38 of the Convention;

12. Holds

(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicants, within three months, the following amounts, to be converted into the currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement:

(i) EUR 15,000 (fifteen thousand euros) to the seventh applicant, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;

(ii) EUR 9,750 (nine thousand seven hundred fifty euros) to the fourth applicant, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non‑pecuniary damage;

(iii) EUR 7,500 (seven thousand five hundred euros) to each of the first, second, third, fifth, sixth and eighth, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non‑pecuniary damage;

(iv) EUR 3,000 (three thousand euros) to each of the first, second, fourth and fifth applicants, plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicants, in respect of costs and expenses, to be paid into their representatives’ bank accounts;

(v) EUR 2,000 (two thousand euros) to each of the third and eighth applicants, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of costs and expenses, to be paid directly into their representatives’ bank accounts;

(vi) EUR 3,500 (three thousand five hundred euros) to the sixth applicant, plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant, in respect of costs and expenses, to be paid directly into his representatives’ bank accounts;

(vii) EUR 2,000 (two thousand euros) to the seventh applicant, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of costs and expenses, to be paid directly into the representative’s (Mr R. Hajili) bank account;

(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;

13. Dismisses the remainder of the applicants’ claims for just satisfaction.

Done in English, and notified in writing on 1 October 2020, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

Anne-Marie Dougin                         Mārtiņš Mits
Acting Deputy Registrar                   President

 

APPENDIX

List of cases


Nos.
Application

no.

Lodged on Applicant’s name,

date of birth

and place of residence

Represented by
1. 3503/10 31/12/2009 Zamin HAJI

1973

Baku, Azerbaijan

Rashid Hajili

Fariz Namazli

2. 25216/10 14/04/2010 Afgan MUKHTARLI

1974

Baku, Azerbaijan

Rashid Hajili

Fariz Namazli

3. 35563/11 12/04/2011 Hakimeldostu MEHDIYEV

1961

Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan

Rashid Hajili

Zibeyda Sadigova

4. 68351/11 07/10/2011 Ilgar NASIBOV

1965

Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan

Rashid Hajili

Zibeyda Sadigova

5. 22906/12 17/03/2012 Ramid IBRAHIMOV

1987

Baku, Azerbaijan

Rashid Hajili

Zibeyda Sadigova

6. 27680/13 14/03/2013 Ehtimad BUDAGOV

1982

Goygol, Azerbaijan

Rashid Hajili

Zibeyda Sadigova

7. 38323/14 06/05/2014 Idrak ABBASOV

1976

Telemark, Norway

Rashid Hajili

Philip Leach

Jessica Gavron

Ramute Remezaite

8. 19883/15 17/04/2015 Tapdig GULIYEV

1961

Baku, Azerbaijan

Samira Agayeva

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