A Baku district court has sentenced former Azerbaijani Health Minister Ali Insanov to seven years in prison on charges of possessing psychotropic drugs and assaulting and seriously injuring a prison officer that his lawyers say are both implausible and unsubstantiated by hard evidence.
Insanov, who is 71, rejected the charges as fabricated and politically motivated. He has vowed to appeal his new sentence, which he believes was intended to preclude his release from prison after serving an 11-year jail term and his anticipated participation in the presidential election due in October 2018.
Insanov is a former close associate of Heidar Aliyev, the father and predecessor of Azerbaijan's current President Ilham Aliyev, and a co-founder in the 1990s of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party. He first fell into disfavor in the run-up to the parliamentary elections of October 2005, when he and several other senior officials were arrested on charges of plotting a coup against Ilham Aliyev, who had succeeded his father two years earlier.
The coup charge was subsequently dropped; instead, Insanov was found guilty and sentenced in April 2007 on charges, to which he pleaded not guilty, of bribery, forgery, and the illegal privatization of state-owned medical facilities.
Six years later, in March 2013, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled that Insanov had been denied the right to a fair trial and that he had been held in inhuman and demeaning conditions in various penitentiaries. The court ruled that the Azerbaijani authorities should pay Insanov 10,000 euros ($10,896) in compensation.
The Azerbaijani government ignored that ruling, however, whereupon Insanov appealed to the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Two months later, Azerbaijan's Supreme Court annulled its own rejection of Insanov's appeal against his prison term and ordered a repeat hearing by the Baku Appeals Court.
The five-week retrial, which Insanov's lawyers and human rights activists said was marred by egregious procedural violations, ended in February 2014 with the judge upholding the original 11-year sentence. Insanov claimed that verdict was dictated by President Aliyev, whom he had earlier publicly accused of appropriating money from the sale of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil and of establishing a "military-political regime."
The new charges against Insanov were brought in August 2016, two months after Azerbaijan's Supreme Court upheld the sentence handed down during the retrial and just weeks before his original 11-year prison term was due to end.
The new trial, during which Insanov was constrained to sit in a steel cage in the courtroom, opened on April 8. Insanov's lawyers argued that the prosecution had failed to furnish any evidence to substantiate the charge that Insanov had inflicted a potentially fatal head injury on a much younger prison officer during an altercation.
They further objected that the tablets allegedly found during a search of his cell could not have contained a psychotropic substance because they were colored, not white, the news portal Caucasian Knot reported on April 20.
The lawyers also implied that the new charges were retaliation for Insanov's public backing of opposition candidate Camil Hasanli in the 2013 presidential election.
In that context, they noted that former Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev (no relation to Ilham), who was arrested together with Insanov in October 2005 in connection with the purported planned coup, was pardoned and released from prison after expressing support for Ilham Aliyev's candidacy.