The South Caucasus Network of Human Rights Defenders

Baku Court launched hearing of cases against Azerbaijan human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus
Keti Gvedashvili, Liberali

On July 15, Baku Court on Grave Crimes held hearing into the cases of Leyla and Arif Yunus, famous couple of Azerbaijan human rights defenders. Leyla is charged for illegal entrepreneurship, evasion from payment of taxes, fabrication of documents and swindle. The last charge is imposed on her husband too. The prosecutor’s office blames them in high treason too, though it is a separate case and preliminary investigation is still going on.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Azerbaijan human rights defender, head of the Peace and Democracy Institute Leyla Yunus was arrested in her house on July 30, 2014. Later on, her husband, scientist and historian Arif Yunus was also arrested. Preliminary investigation into their cases lasted almost one year. It6 was finished on June 23, 2015 and passed to the court for discussion. The accused and their lawyers studied the case materials; on July 3, the materials were sent to the court.

The court collegium, with Afgan Hajaev as a chairman, held pre-trial hearing into the criminal case against Leyla and Arif Yunus which refers to alleged economic crime. Not everybody could attend the hearing because of small space in the courtroom. Unlike other human rights defenders, they were seated in the glass cage instead iron one.

Monitor from Human Rights House Tbilisi lawyer Irina Kasradze reported that defense lawyers of Arif and Leyla Yunus raised several solicitations with the court. Lawyer of Arif Yunus solicited to release the accused persons from the glass cage and to drop criminal prosecution against them because of the absence of signs of crime in their cases.

Lawyer of Leyla Yunus solicited to change the compulsory measure – imprisonment into a house-arrest, to video-audio record the hearing, to release the accused person from the cage and drop the criminal liability against them.

The defense lawyers also requested to withdraw testimonies of several witnesses from the case. The prosecutor did not satisfy any of the defense lawyers’ solicitations; neither court satisfied their solicitations.

“During the break Leyla Yunus addressed to the audience in the courtroom in English and Russian languages. She said she was several times physically abused in the prison; she even named concrete dates: September 27, December 11 and most recently June 20. Leyla said she suffers from insomnia, pains in belly and bowels. She asked for the medicine “Imodium” because the medicines, which she received based on the consultations with European doctors, had side effects. Her defense lawyer said Leyla has Hepatitis C and almost destroyed her lever,” monitor Irine Kasradze said.

The Yunuss are charged under Article 178.3.2 of the Azerbaijan Criminal Code that applies to swindle which causes significant loss. This charge is the gravest of all because it is punished by imprisonment up to 19 years.

The prosecution claims Leyla and Arif Yunuss misappropriated 71 000 USD from the grants received from the Open Society, NED and German Marshal Foundation, which they had transferred to their bank account in Czech Republic. The prosecutor’s office claims the accused persons did it through neglecting the donors but as lawyer Khalid Bagirov, representative of the Yunuss in the European Court of Human Rights, said the donor organizations have no complaints against the accused human rights defenders.

“The lawyers draft solicitation for donors to be sent to the court because according to the accusation, the donor organizations are victims. During verbal communication, the donors did not present any complaints against the Yunuss and are ready to send their position in written form to the court,” Khalid Bagirov said.

Leyla Yunus is charged under Article 192.2.2 of the Azerbaijan Criminal Code, that refers to illegal entrepreneurship and is punishable by imprisonment up to 5 years. According to the accusation, Leyla’s organization has received several unregistered grants which she misused for her commercial activities. Khalid Bagirov claims the accusation is absurd because there is no provision in the Azerbaijan legislation which clarifies use of unregistered grant as commercial activity.

The lawyer clarifies that if the organization used unregistered grant, the maximum charge for that could have been administrative responsibility and fine.

In addition to that, Leyla Yunus is charged under Article 213.2.2 of the Criminal Code which refers to the evasion from the payment of taxes and is punishable by imprisonment up to 7 years. The prosecution states apart to illegal entrepreneurship Leyla Yunus did not pay taxes.

One more charge brought against Leyla Yunus is fabrication of documents (Articles 320.1 and 320.2 of the Azerbaijan Criminal Code), that is punishable by imprisonment up to 2 years.

Leyla Yunus established Peace and Democracy Institute in 1990s, but she was refused to register it. For that reason, the organization did not have bank account. Thus, Leyla Yunus had to receive grants on the accounts of other partner organizations.

Since 2002, director of one of the non-functioning NGO assigned all his authorities to Leyla Yunus. She, as a deputy director, was authorized to manage bank accounts too. She received the grants on the account of this organization and then spent for the activities of the Peace and Democracy Institute. However, the lawyer claims everything was done in accordance to the law.

The prosecution claims all documents, which was assigned to Leyla Yunus by the director, and all other documents based on which Leyla indirectly managed finances of her organization, were fake. “Legally, there are no signs of crime in this part of the accusation. Leyla could have committed a crime, if she had illegally received and spent grants; but donors transferred grants to the account in accordance to the law,” the lawyer said.

Considering past activities of Leyla Yunus and many other circumstances, like the fact that other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan were also convicted under the same charges, raise well-grounded doubt on political motivation of the accusation.

Leyla Yunus very actively worked on the cases of political prisoners in the country. She, together with Intigam Alyiev and Rasul Jafarov, cooperated with the Council of Europe, European Commission and PACE.

The fact that Leyla and Arif Yunus were arrested during the mass arrests of human rights defenders and journalists in Azerbaijan, further intensifies the doubts about political motivations. The state authority started smear campaign against NGOs and human rights defenders initially with legislative changes, in accordance to which all NGOs and grants were to be registered at the Ministry of Justice. However, the Ministry never responded to the registration applications of the NGOs. This fact created a valid ground for the criminal cases against human rights defenders.

As a result, nowadays there are almost no human rights nongovernmental organizations in Azerbaijan. Part of HRDs fled from the country, another part stopped activities; several dozen people are convicted for similar charges and serve their terms in the Azerbaijan prisons. International community declared them prisoners of conscience.

The essential hearing into Yunus’ case will start at 10:00 on July 27. 
Keti Gvedashvili, Liberali

Copyright © 2009 - 2024 | All Rights Reserved