Prison death in custody leads to father’s €23,500 award (ECHR)

A father has been awarded €23,500 by human rights judges following the death in custody of his son in an Azerbaijan jail (case Mustafayev v. Azerbaijan -application no. 47095/09).
The applicant, Zeynal Zeynal oglu Mustafayev, is an Azerbaijani national who was born in 1937 and lives in Sumgayit (Azerbaijan).
The case concerned the death of his son, Mahir Mustafayev, in prison.
The applicant learnt on 6 December 2006 that his son Mahir Mustafayev, serving a life sentence in Gobustan Prison, had died three days earlier from smoke inhalation and first and second degree burns when a fire broke out in his cell. Although the exact time when the fire began is in dispute, the parties agree that the applicant’s son was taken out of his cell by guards at around 7 a.m., was given first aid by a paramedic and at around 11.45 a.m. was sent by car to a hospital in Baku; he arrived at 2.45 p.m. and died shortly after.
A criminal inquiry was launched the next day by the prosecuting authorities. Following a series of domestic proceedings, in May 2008 the Garadagh District Prosecutor’s Office refused to institute criminal proceedings into the death, concluding that the applicant’s son had died as a result of an accidental fire; this decision was upheld by the domestic courts in February 2009.
Throughout this period the domestic prosecutors and courts repeatedly overruled the investigators’ decisions, finding that the inquiries were incomplete and suggesting that further investigative steps be taken.
The steps suggested included ordering a forensic fire examination, establishing why it had taken so long to transfer the applicant’s son to hospital and clarifying discrepancies in two reports, one which stated that the applicant’s son had been unable to move as he had been burnt and in shock and the other indicating that he had signed a statement immediately after the incident confirming that the fire had broken out because he had had an epileptic seizure while smoking.
Relying in particular on Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicant alleged that his son had either been deliberately killed by prison guards – who had then tried to cover up the murder by setting fire to his cell – or had died as a result of the authorities’ failure to provide appropriate medical care, it having taken almost eight hours to transfer him to hospital despite his having serious burns. He also complained that the ensuing investigation into the death of his son had been ineffective, submitting that he had not been kept duly informed of its progress.
Violation of Article 2 (right to life)
Violation of Article 2 (investigation)
Just satisfaction: 20,000 euros (EUR) (non-pecuniary damage) and EUR 3,500 (costs and expenses)