Relatives of suspected spies who were tortured to death. Media grab from Meydan TV report.
Relatives of suspected spies who were tortured to death. Media grab from Meydan TV report.

At least eight Azerbaijani army servicemen, three of them officers, were tortured to death by government investigators after they were accused of being Armenian spies in May 2017, others received lengthy prison sentences. This is according to reports from their relatives, cited by European-based Azerbaijani media and human rights activists. In Azerbaijan itself reports on military and security topics are prohibited from being published, unless they are pre-approved by the government.

According to the relatives cited, the government has cleared a number of those murdered of spying charges and is now trying eight other military personnel charged with committing the abuses. As Berlin-based and Tbilisi-based reported, the investigators raped, waterboarded and otherwise tortured their victims to obtain confessions. Gen. Hikmet Hesenov, commander of the 1st Corps of Azerbaijani army, where most of the arrests were made and abuses committed, reportedly told his subordinates to “either confess or die.”

A monitoring group from the Council of Europe-affiliated Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) met with some twenty survivors of the ordeal. 

At the time of the arrests, multiple social media posters said there were between forty and sixty people arrested, most of them army servicemen, making it the largest crackdown on the military since the 1990s.

It remains unclear what sparked the crackdown, but one report suggested that servicemen suspected to be gay were specifically targeted. The arrests followed and preceded a series of dismissals of senior Azerbaijani military and security officials, including senior presidential aide Vahid Aliyev, the first deputy chief of the general staff, as well as chiefs of operations and intelligence directorates and other senior officers in the Defense Ministry.