Azerbaijani human rights defenders were given heavy sentences for criticizing the government
Azerbaijan, action created 26.8.2015, petition is active
Leyla Yunus, an Azerbaijani human rights activist, and her husband, Arif Yunus, president of the Institute for Peace and Democracy and her husband, were sentenced to 7 to 8.5 years in prison. Both were tried for alleged fraud and other offenses. Before her arrest, Leyla documented the way in which the Azerbaijani authorities treated political prisoners. Arif is a historian and political activist. Both had openly criticized the Azerbaijani government and pointed to the restrictions on freedom of speech in the country. Amnesty International considers Leyla and Arif prisoners of conscience, imprisoned only because of their human rights activities. We demand their immediate and unconditional release.
Arif Yunus and Leyla Yunus were arrested in July 2014 and subsequently accused of a range of serious offenses including tax evasion, falsification of documents, and illegal business activities.
The court in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, was convened on August 3rd 2015. Some international observers and journalists were not allowed to enter the courtroom as only a few interpreters for the representatives of foreign embassies were granted access. New allegations were also held against the two convicts - treason and espionage for Armenia, both of which led to much higher penalties.
Both Leyla and Arif's health conditions have been deteriorating in detention. Arif, during the court hearings, fainted as a result of high blood pressure. In April 2014, he suffered two strokes and his family feared that he might have another stroke after the August 3rd incident. Leyla was diagnosed with diabetes and hepatitis C, as well as impaired vision in her left eye. Neither Arif nor Leyla were given proper medical treatment during their imprisonment.
Amnesty International believes that the charges against Leyla and Arif are a response to their work in the field of human rights as well as their criticism of the Azerbaijani government. Amnesty International has been calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to comply with the international obligations concerning the protection of freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Dissenting voices in the country frequently face criminal charges, physical assault, harassment, blackmail, and other reprisals. Law enforcement officials regularly use torture and other ill-treatment against detained civil society activists.
Leyla Yunus is the President of the Azerbaijani NGO, the Institute for Peace and Democracy. She was arrested on July 30th 2014 on the charges of treason (purportedly spying for Armenia), tax evasion, forgery, fraud, and illegal business in relation to a grant received by her NGO which she had been prevented by the authorities from registering. Her husband, Arif Yunus, was arrested on August 5th. Arif Yunus is also facing criminal charges of treason, tax evasion and fraud in connection with his involvement in the activities of the Institute for Peace and Democracy.
Amnesty International has recognized at least 20 people as prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, jailed solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and speech. For more information, see:
Azerbaijan: the Repression Games: The voices you won’t hear at the first European Games (https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur55/1732/2015/en/)
Azerbaijan: Guilty of Defending Rights: Azerbaijan’s human rights defenders and activists behind bars (https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur55/1077/2015/en/)
Behind bars: Silencing dissent in Azerbaijan (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/EUR55/004/2014/en).
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, hosted the inaugural European Games in June 2015. The 2015 European Games was the first major multi-sport event for Europe and involved around 6,000 European athletes. Representatives of Amnesty International, as well as several other international human rights organizations and international media, were barred from entering Azerbaijan ahead of the launch of the European Games.
Shortly before her arrest, on July 25th 2014, Leyla Yunus organized a press conference at which she called for an international boycott of the European Games because of Azerbaijan’s dire human rights record.