The European court has ruled that Azerbaijan's arrest of four civil-society activists was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on June 7 said it found the arrests of the men "were inconsistent and had lacked clarity, with no evidence being presented to back up the investigators' and prosecutors’ accusations."
The men were board members of the NIDA civic movement, which was established in 2011 and has organized protests in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, against corruption and the detention of what it calls are political prisoners.
The ECHR said they were arrested a few days after a "peaceful protest" in March 2013 against alleged mistreatment of soldiers in the army. Authorities charged them with supplying firebombs that they said were found in the apartments of two other NIDA members.
The European court said that "given the lack of evidence against the four, and other facts and circumstances, it had concluded that they were arrested and detained in order to silence them and punish them for their involvement in NIDA."
The men denied all charges, calling them politically motivated, ECHR said in its ruling.
The men were eventually convicted in May 2014 and sentenced to terms of seven to eight years each. Two were released in late 2014 and the other two in March 2016 after being pardoned by presidential decree, the ECHR said.
In its ruling, the court in Strasbourg ordered the Azerbaijani authorities to pay 20,000 euros ($23,670) compensation to each of the men.
It listed them as Rashad Zeynalabdin-oglu Hasanov, Zaur Araz-oglu Gurbanli, Uzeyir Mahammad-oglu Mammadli, and Rashadat Fikrat-oglu Akhundov, all born in the 1980s.
ECHR rulings are not final and parties have three months to request that the case be taken to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR.
Azerbaijan's opposition, as well as Western governments and international human rights groups, have criticized President Ilham Aliyev's government for persistently persecuting opposition politicians, activists, independent media outlets, and journalists, often using what they allege are trumped-up criminal charges.
Aliyev has ruled the oil-producing former Soviet republic with an iron hand since shortly before his father, Heydar Aliyev, died in 2003 after a decade in power.