The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ordered Azerbaijan to pay compensation to two opposition activists jailed on drug charges after painting political graffiti on a statue of former President Heydar Aliyev.
In its February 13 ruling, the Strasbourg-based court held that Azerbaijan is to pay Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov 30,000 euros ($32,600) each in respect of nonpecuniary damage, plus 6,000 euros ($6,500) each as compensation for costs and expenses.
The ECHR found that the arrest and pretrial detention of Mammadov and Ibrahimov of the NIDA youth movement had been arbitrary and that police had subjected them to "ill-treatment in order to force them to confess" to the charges against them.
The case was "part of a pattern it had found in previous cases of the arbitrary arrest and detention of government critics, civil society activists, and human-rights defenders through retaliatory prosecutions and misuse of the criminal law," the court said.
Mammadov and Ibrahimov were arrested in May 2016, a day after they sprayed graffiti on a statue of the president who ruled Azerbaijan from 1993 until his son, Ilham Aliyev, took up the reins 17 years ago. The two activists posted images of the graffiti on social media.
The graffiti included the words "F*** the system" and "Happy slave day" in Azeri -- a play on the phrase “Happy flower day,” which is linked to commemorations of Heydar Aliyev’s birthday.
Mammadov and Ibrahimov were convicted of drug offenses and sentenced to 10 years in jail before being released by presidential pardon last year.
The ECHR said their prosecution for drug-related crimes in retaliation for their actions was an "unlawful," "grossly arbitrary" interference with their freedom of expression.
In 2018, the ECHR found that four other NIDA members had been arrested and charged with supplying firebombs in retaliation for their involvement in the youth movement.