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Azerbaijan: Time for justice in the case against Leyla and Arif Yunus
[22.10.2015]
PRESS RELEASE - THE OBSERVATORY

Geneva-Paris, October 16, 2015 – The appeal trial in the case against Ms. Leyla and Mr. Arif Yunus opened before the Baku Grave Crimes Court on October 12. On August 13, both had been convicted to 8.5 and 7 years jail sentences in a trial that grossly disregarded international standards of fair trial and due process. As the appeal trial is unfolding, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH programme) calls for these outrageous sentences to be nullified.

On October 12, the Baku Appeal Court had adjourned the case against Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov toto October 15 after 15 minutes, since Ms. Yunus had received the translation of  the charges-sheet  on the day of the session itself. Ms. Yunus is not fluent in Azeri, therefore all trial documents are being translated into Russian.

On October 15, the trial resumed with the presence of diplomats, representatives of local and international human rights organisations and international trial observers, including one mandated by the Observatory (representative of the Georgian Human Rights Center, which is member of FIDH and OMCT). 

At the start of the hearing, Mr. Arif Yunus was placed into a glass cabin. Ms. Yunus was then brought into the room, and appeared very weak. She  nonetheless managed to denounce the absence of medical treatment she desperately needs, highlighting that German doctor Christian Witt, who examined her in December 2014, had prescribed a her a two-month treatment in jail hospital, yet she was actually allowed to spend only 6 days in hospital and has not received the required treatments since then. She spoke emotionally, was extremely anxious and resisted guards who did not allow her to speak and tried to take her into the cabin. All the observers in the room stood up as a sign of solidarity with Ms. Yunus. The judge requested silence, and ordered an opposition leader present in the room to be taken out.

The judge  then started the hearing and approved a motion filed by defence lawyer Mr. Elchin Sadiqov to postpone the hearing because he needed time to study court protocols and documents. The judge accepted his request and the trial was re-scheduled to 3:00pm on October 20, 2015. The October-15 hearing therefore lasted only 7 minutes, in a noisy environment. It is worth noting that when the judge was speaking, Ms. Yunus complained that she could not hear him from the glass cabin where she and her husband were held.

“If this was a democracy with any remote semblance of a rule of law there could be only one reasonable course of action: release, immediate medical treatment and the opening of an investigation into those who neglected their duty to care. Instead we see the continuation of a judicial farce in the heart of Europe. We cannot let the authorities go away with this”, said OMCT Secretary General, Gerald Staberock.

“Yesterday's hearing confirms once again that the right to medical treatment of the Yunus couple is being blatantly violated as their health condition remains critical. We urge the authorities to put an end to this unbearable situation and release them immediately as their detention clearly aims at sanctioning their human rights activities”, concluded FIDH President, Karim Lahidji.

Background information

Ms. Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) and a member of OMCT General Assembly, and Mr. Arif Yunusov, Chief of IPD's department of conflictology, were arrested as part of a large crackdown targeting human rights defenders and civil society which began in the summer of 2014. Ms. Leyla Yunus was charged with “state treason”, “large scale fraud”, “illegal business” through extraction of income in large scale, “large scale tax invasion, fake manufacturing or selling of other official documents” and “use of fake documents”. Mr. Arif Yunus was charged with “fraud” and “state treason”. The couple faced one year of pre-trial detention during which the deterioration of their health was appalling and during which their requests for access to the necessary medical treatment were denied multiple times. 

The Observatory recalls that very similar and equally politically motivated sentences were already upheld in July 2015 after the appeal trials of human rights defenders Mr. Intigam Aliyev and Mr. Rasul Jafarov, who are currently serving 7.5 and 6.2 years in prison, respectively. Moreover, the appeal trial regarding the sentencing of prominent investigative journalist Ms. Khadija Ismayilova to 7.5 years in prison is currently taking place in Baku, with the first hearing held on October 15, on the same day as the Yunus couple. 

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OBS) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.

For more information, please contact :
• OMCT : Miguel Martín Zumalacárregui - Tel: +32 2 218 37 19 (Brussels) / Delphine Reculeau – Tel: +41 22 809 49 34 (Geneva)
• FIDH: Audrey Couprie - Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris) / Arthur Manet - Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)

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