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By Index on Censorship / 6 August 2014
60 NGOs from 13 Human Rights Houses call upon the Azerbaijani authorities, in their joint letter to President Ilham Aliyev, to immediately and unconditionally release Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus and Rasul Jafarov, and lift all charges held against them. The NGOs also repeat their previous call to release Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli, and join calls for the release of Hasan Huseynli.
On 28 April 2014 Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democrac, and her husband historian Arif Yunus, were prevented from leaving the country at Baku’s airport. Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus were arrested on 30 July 2014. On that day, Leyla Yunus was sentenced to 3-months pre-trial detention, whilst her husband was placed under police guard and not allowed to leave Baku. The charges brought against Leyla Yunus are those of state treason (article 274 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan), large-scale fraud (article 178.3.2), forgery (article 320), tax evasion (article 213), and illegal business (article 192). Arif Yunus was arrested on 5 August 2014 and also sentenced to 3-months pre-trial detention.
The NGOs state in their joint letter to President Aliyev of 5 August 2014 that they are in particular concerned about Leyla Yunus’ health whilst in detention. She suffers from diabetes and needs appropriate medication, as well as arrangements to eat at certain times, necessary to control the illness. We worry that the conditions in detention will have a detrimental effect on her health condition, as it appears that she is to date not provided with adequate health care.
In July 2014, the bank accounts of, amongst others, human rights defender Rasul Jafarov were frozen as part of a broader investigation into numerous NGO’s. On 25 July he was refused to leave the country. Rasul Jafarov was arrested on 2 August 2014, and sentenced to 3 months pre-trial detention on charges of tax evasion (article 213 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan), illegal business (article 192) and abuse of authority (article 308.2).
On 14 July 2014, Hasan Huseynli, was sentenced to 6 years in prison. He was convicted on charges of armed hooliganism and unlawfully carrying a cold weapon.
The right to freedom of association is at the heart of the charges held against these human rights defenders. In essence they are deprived of their right to work in the defence of human rights. While registration of NGOs and grants to NGOs has become mandatory in Azerbaijan, authorities continue deny registration. Independent NGOs face continuous investigations and human rights defenders are being banned from travelling abroad, depending on their willingness to find agreements with the government, including agreements on their professional activities and their public statements.
Restrictions to laws affecting the right to freedom of association have been widely criticised since October 2011. Such legislation de facto criminalises human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, not for their wrong doing, but rather for the fact that working for an NGO, which does not have the blessing of the government, has become difficult in Azerbaijan. United Nations experts stated ahead of the Presidential elections that they “observed since 2011 a worrying trend of legislation which has narrowed considerably the space in which civil society and defenders operate in Azerbaijan.” The order given to the Human Rights House Azerbaijan in March 2011 to cease all its activities is a consequence of such policies.
The NGOs call upon the Azerbaijani authorities, in their joint letter to President Ilham Aliyev of 5 August 2014, to immediately and unconditionally release Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, and lift all charges held against them. The NGOs see this pre-trial detention of Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus and Rasul Jafarov as a way to silence them. The NGOs also repeat their previous call to release Anar Mammadli and Bashir Suleymanli, and join calls for the release of Hasan Huseynli.
The NGOs further call upon the Azerbaijani authorities to take appropriate measures to put an end to the attacks, detention and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and activists, and to take steps in order to foster a safe environment for them, in line with Azerbaijan’s international obligations and commitments, especially as the chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
Human Rights House Azerbaijan (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House in exile, Vilnius (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Human Rights House Belgrade (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Human Rights House Kiev (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Human Rights House London (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Human Rights House Sarajevo (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Human Rights House Tbilisi (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Human Rights House Oslo (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Human Rights House Voronezh (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Human Rights House Yerevan (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Human Rights House Zagreb (on behalf of the following NGOs):
The Rafto House in Bergen, Norway (on behalf of the following NGOs):
The House of the Helsinki Foundation For Human Rights, Poland (on behalf of the following NGOs):
Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, Azerbaijan
Foundation “Multiethnic Resource Center for Civic Education Development”, Georgia
People in Need, Czech Republic
Public Movement Multinational, Georgia
Public Association for Assistance to Free Economy, Azerbaijan
Public Union of Democracy and Human Rights Resource Centre, Azerbaijan
This statement was originally posted on Aug 5, 2014 at http://humanrightshouse.org/Articles/20321.html