"Politically motivated at the behest of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev" -- that was how former Health Minister Ali Insanov described his five-week retrial, which ended on February 25 with the judge upholding the 11-year prison term handed down to Insanov in 2007.
Insanov’s lawyers and human rights activists say the proceedings were marked by egregious procedural violations, including placing the accused in a soundproof glass cage in the courtroom and periodically switching off the microphone through which he could communicate with the judge and his lawyers.
Insanov, 67, was one of a group of senior Azerbaijani officials arrested on the eve of the October 2005 parliamentary election on suspicion of plotting a coup d'etat. That charge against Insanov was subsequently dropped, but he went on trial in early 2007 on charges of illegally privatizing medical facilities, bribery, and abuse of his official position. Although he pleaded not guilty, Insanov was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in jail.
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 ($13,737) 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. Insanov released a statement through his lawyer affirming that he will "fight to the end."
When the proceedings began on January 17, Insanov was placed in a steel cage in the courtroom. In his initial statement, he branded the judicial system corrupt, called for the presiding judge to be replaced, and declared:
"May my hand, which supported Ilham Aliyev, wither away. This government has no relationship to our people. The government despises the people just as the people despise it. That is precisely why the people did not support the government in the presidential elections. I have gone through all the circles of hell. All that remains is the graveyard."
The hearing was adjourned for two weeks. When it resumed on January 31, Insanov was required to sit in the soundproof glass cage. Insanov's requests that the judge be replaced and the Justice Minister be summoned to testify with regard to conditions in Azerbaijan's jails were rejected.
So too was his request to summon as a witness the Ministry of Economic Development department head, who signed off on his proposals for the privatization of medical facilities that Insanov was accused of selling illegally between 1997 and 2004 for a total of 27,221,574 manats ($34.69 million).
Just months before his arrest, Insanov was estimated to be the fourth richest man in the country. One commentator recently made the point that none of the numerous press articles in the early 2000s highlighting corruption, inefficiency, and botched reforms within the health-care system ever led to a libel case against the newspaper in question.
In the 1990s, Insanov was one of the founding members of the Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), which served as the power base first for President Heidar Aliyev, and then for his son and successor Ilham. Two fellow YAP veterans Ali Alirzayev and Maksim Musayev, spoke out in support of Insanov's demand for a fair retrial. In particular, Musayev stressed Insanov’s "devotion" to Heidar Aliyev.