Azerbaijani refused political asylum in NL, arrested at home

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan
Baku, the capital of AzerbaijanPhoto: 2753148/DepositPhotos

Natig Isbatov, a 32-year-old asylum seeker from Azerbaijan who the Netherlands deported earlier this month, is being persecuted in his home country for political reasons, human rights organization Amnesty International and refugee organization VluchtelingenWerk Nederland said to NRC.

Isbatov was arrested on July 11th, two days after is return to Azerbaijan. He was sentenced to 30 days in prison, NRC reports based on a court verdict in its possession. The ruling against Isbatov was based on statements from the police. According to the newspaper, it states that Isbatov was arrested because he "yelled" and "swore" on the street. The man himself says he was arrested for no reason.

Amnesty International and VluchtelingenWerk have a "strong suspicion" that Isbatov was prosecuted for political reasons, they said to the newspaper. He spoke against the Azerbaijani regime on social media multiple times. VluchtelingenWerk fears that he is being tortured in prison and calls on the Netherlands to investigate his arrest. According to VluchtelingenWerk, the Azerbaijani authorities likely used a "false indictment" to punish Isbatov for his activism. Azerbaijan is increasingly prosecuting activists and critical journalists, mainly by using an article in the country's law that criminalizes resistance against the police, the organization said. 

The European Convention on Human Rights prohibits deportation "to a country where a person is at real risk of torture or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment". According to a committee of the Council of Europe, prisoners in Azerbaijan are "systematically" tortured.

Isbatov and his brother Anar Bayramov fled to the Netherlands in early 2017. They told the Dutch authorities that they had been detained and abused in their home country, because Bayramov published critical articles about the regime. Isbatov became politically active in the Netherlands, and he regularly posted critical posts about the Azerbaijani government on social media. 

Bayramov told NRC that Isbatov and his wife feared for their lives when they heard that the Netherlands was going to deport them. Isbatov's wife swallowed dish soap in an attempt to postpone their return to Azerbaijan, he said. Isbatov then arranged that he, his wife and their two children could return to their home country on their own, in the hope that this would prevent the police from waiting for them when they arrived, according to his brother. "Why would he then suddenly behave so strikingly?"

When asked about this case, the Dutch immigration and naturalization service IND told NRC that it does not answer questions about individual cases and that each asylum application is assessed based "on its own merits".

VluchtelingenWerk thinks the Netherlands should be more careful with asylum applications from journalists and activists. It is difficult to provide "hard evidence" of persecution or mistreatment, the refugees' organization said to the newspaper. "In practice, the bar is set so high that it is virtually impossible for many asylum seekers to get protection", a spokesperson said. The organization wants the deportation of political asylum seekers to Azerbaijan to be halted temporarily and for the IND's methods to be examined.