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At least eight Azerbaijani army servicemen, three of them officers, died due to torture they were subjected to by government investigators in May 2017 after they were accused of being Armenian spies. This is according to reports from their relatives, cited by European-based Azerbaijani media and human rights activists; in Azerbaijan itself such reports are prohibited from being published, unless they are pre-cleared by the government. Still other suspected spies have reportedly received lengthy prison sentences.
At the same time, the government has cleared a number of those killed of spying charges and is now trying eight investigators charged with the abuses. According to the reports carried by Berlin-based Meydan.tv and Tbilisi-based iFact.ge, they reportedly 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, 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 retirements of key Azerbaijani military officials, including president’s chief 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.