Savalanli and Others v. Azerbaijan (Applications nos. 54151/11 and 3 others)

A selection of key paragraphs can be found below the judgement.

89.  Firstly, the Court observes that neither the police reports nor any decisions taken subsequently contained any specific information or detail as regards the collection and receipt of the information which led the authorities to target the applicants specifically and constituted the grounds for arresting and searching them. In particular, it remains unknown how that information was allegedly received by the police, the source of the information and how that source became aware of the information. This situation is even more striking in the light of the fact that the applicants, who were political activists or had a close family member who was a political activist, had no criminal history of being involved in drugsrelated or any other crimes whatsoever prior to the events in question.

90.  Secondly, the Court notes that, although the searches of the applicants were conducted without a prior judicial warrant, the investigating authorities failed to justify their decisions by explaining the circumstances making it necessary to search the applicants without a prior judicial warrant and limited themselves to referring to the relevant provisions of the domestic law (compare Kobiashvili v. Georgia, no. 36416/06, § 61, 14 March 2019). It further does not appear from the documents available in the case file that there was any retrospective review of the investigating authorities’ actions by a court, or that a copy of any relevant decisions concerning the conduct of the searches without a court order was sent to the relevant supervising court and prosecutor within forty-eight hours as required by domestic law (see reference in paragraph 74 above).

91.  Thirdly, the Court refers to its findings in previous cases against Azerbaijan as regards the way the police carried out searches. […] The Court considers that these findings are relevant to the present case. The lapses of time between the arrests and the searches raise legitimate concerns about the possible “planting” of evidence, because the applicants were completely under the control of the police during that time. Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that there were any special circumstances rendering it impossible to carry out a search immediately after the applicants’ arrest. The Court also does not consider that the presence of attesting witnesses during the searches in question could have remedied that situation in the light of the reports and findings of various international human rights organisations about a number of consistent accounts of police putting drugs or other incriminating evidence into detained persons’ personal belongings before calling in witnesses and conducting official searches and seizures (see Ibrahimov and Mammadov, cited above, § 127, and reference in paragraph 75 above).

92.  Fourthly, the Court cannot overlook the fact that the investigative measures were mainly limited to conducting the relevant searches, without any further investigative steps being taken as regards the circumstances relating to the second, third and fourth applicants’ alleged involvement in drug trafficking (see Ibrahimov and Mammadov, cited above, § 130). It does not appear from the documents in the case file that the domestic authorities attempted to search for other potential evidence – such as cash, information concerning possible suppliers or buyers, or items relating to drug paraphernalia, including scales and packaging material – at any stage of the investigation. They appear to have limited their searches exclusively to the seizure of the drugs. Nor can the Court overlook the fact that throughout the entire period of the applicants’ detention the investigating authorities failed to establish or provide any information or documents as to the source from which they had allegedly obtained the drugs in question (compare Rashad Hasanov and Others, cited above, § 101).

94. […] In this connection, having regard to the above analysis, the Court finds that the material put before it does not meet the minimum standard set by Article 5 § 1 (c) of the Convention for the reasonableness of the suspicion required for an individual’s arrest and continued detention. Accordingly, it has not been demonstrated in a satisfactory manner that during the period under the Court’s consideration in the present case the applicants were deprived of their liberty on “reasonable suspicion” of having committed a criminal offence.

95.  There has accordingly been a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention.


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