Azerbaijan: Interpol must prevent misuse of alerts against Leyla and Arif Yunus


Arif and Leyla Yunus

Arif and Leyla Yunus (Photo: HRHN)

Dear Secretary General,

We, the undersigned organisations call on Interpol, and all other relevant bodies and authorities to act with due diligence in accordance with Interpol’s constitution to prevent the misuse of Interpol alerts against Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus, two prominent human rights defenders from Azerbaijan. The couple currently resides in exile in the Netherlands, where they were granted refugee status in 2016. Detailed information about their human rights activism can be found below. Interpol’s constitution prohibits the misuse of its systems for political purposes and in ways that violate human rights.

Leyla and Arif Yunus were arrested on 30 July and on 5 August 2014 respectively. Azerbaijani authorities prosecuted both on politically motivated charges of large-scale fraud, while also charging Leyla with bogus forgery, tax evasion, and illegal entrepreneurship offences. In August 2015, a court sentenced Leyla Yunus to eight and half years imprisonment, and Arif Yunus to seven, having convicted them of tax evasion and other economic crimes. Authorities also filed treason charges against them both, but later suspended the investigation.

On 9 December 2015, Leyla Yunus was released from detention and her eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence was converted into five-year suspended sentence, following a decision by the Baku City Court of Appeal on the basis of a request from her lawyers with reference to her deteriorating health condition. Similarly, Arif Yunus’s prison term was changed to a five-year suspended sentence. He was placed under house arrest on 12 November 2015. In April 2016 the Azerbaijani government allowed the couple to travel abroad to receive needed medical treatment for conditions they had developed during their prison ordeal.

Due to the politically motivated nature of their prosecution, in spring 2016 the couple received political asylum in the Netherlands.

When Leyla and Arif left Azerbaijan, their cassation appeal was still pending before the Supreme Court. On 27 December 2016, the Supreme Court sent the case back for re-examination to the Baku Appeal Court. On 17 May 2017, at the hearing at the Baku Appeal Court, the Yunus’s lawyer asked the court to ensure the couple’s participation in the proceedings via internet. The court rejected the petition. The same day, the court ordered the couple to return to the country to participate in the subsequent court hearings in their case. The court hearing was rescheduled from 31 May to 3 July 2017.

The arrest of Leyla and Arif Yunus happened against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan. Since 2014, several dozens of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists and opposition politicians have been arrested and prosecuted on politically-motivated grounds. The arrests and other steps by the government of Azerbaijan have served to severely close the space for independent activism, critical journalism, and opposition political activity in the country.

Azerbaijan has been ranking as Not Free in the Freedom in the World rankings of the Freedom House for several years, scoring the lowest on the political rights and civil liberties. In the latest Freedom of the Press rankings, Azerbaijan scored the 162nd place out of 180 countries.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recently concluded an official visit to Azerbaijan. In a statement issued at the end of its visit, the Working Group concluded that human rights defenders, journalists, and political and religious leaders continue to be detained on criminal or administrative charges in the country as a way to impair their exercise of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and to silence them. The Working Group stressed that these practices constitute abuse of authority and violate the principle of the rule of law that Azerbaijan has undertaken to comply with. One of the cases highlighted by the Working Group is that of Leyla and Arif Yunus. In his recent report to the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Michel Forst also drew attention to the legal persecution of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.

An official request has been made to Interpol on 12 June 2017 by the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), which represents the couple, to inquire about the existence of any alerts made against Leyla and Arif Yunus by the Azerbaijani Government and to request Interpol to take all appropriate steps to prevent the dissemination of such an alert. Taking into consideration the very poor human rights record in Azerbaijan and the routine practice of politically-motivated prosecutions by the authorities, any attempt by the Azerbaijani authorities to use Interpol alerts against Leyla Yunusova and Arif Yunusov would violate the prohibition in Interpol’s constitution against the misuse of its systems for political purposes and in ways that violate human rights. Interpol should, therefore, refuse any request from the Azerbaijani authorities to use the Interpol Information System against Leyla Yunusova and Arif Yunusov, and we call on all relevant national bodies and authorities not to act on Interpol alerts against them, in case they are issued.

Short biographies:

Leyla Yunus is a long time human rights defender and activist since the late Soviet era. She is the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, a human rights organisation in Azerbaijan that focused on political prisoners, women’s rights and other issues. For almost 30 years Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus have been involved in compiling comprehensive lists of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Leyla Yunus is a Knight of the French Legion of Honor, winner of the International Theodor Hacker award, Laureate of the Polish Sergio Vieira de Mello Award and a finalist of the 2014 Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament.

Arif Yunus is a prominent Azerbaijani historian and human rights activist. He is the chairperson of the Conflict and Migration departments at the Institute for Peace and Democracy. Throughout his career, Arif has published over 30 books and several articles on the history of Azerbaijan and on Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. In his work, he has promoted dialogue between intellectuals from Azerbaijan and Armenia, and for many years has advocated for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. He has supported numerous victims of torture and spoken out repeatedly against politically motivated detentions.

The list of signatory organisations:

1. Amnesty International
2. Association UMDPL (Ukraine)
3. Bir Duino
4. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights
5. Committee Against Torture
6. Crude Accountability
7. Fair Trials
8. FIDH and OMCT under “Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders”
9. Freedom Files
10. Front Line Defenders
11. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
12. Human Rights House Foundation
13. Human Rights Watch
14. Index on Censorship
15. International Partnership for Human Rights
16. Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS)
17. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
18. KRF Public Alternative
19. Legal Policy Research Centre
20. Public Verdict
21. Regional Center for Strategic Studies
22. The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
23. The Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims
24. The Netherlands Helsinki Committee
25. Women of the Don[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1497944614160-ae286e6b-fd24-9″ taxonomies=”7145″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content_no_spaces” content_placement=”middle”][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”91122″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=””][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Azerbaijan: Suspension of sentences for Leyla and Arif Yunus is a welcome step, but justice still elusive

Leyla Yunus (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

Leyla Yunus (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

We — members of the Civic Solidarity Platform and the Sports For Rights Campaign — were relieved to learn that one of Azerbaijan’s most well-known political prisoners, Leyla Yunus, was released from detention yesterday and that that the Baku City Court of Appeal changed her sentence and that of her husband Arif into suspended sentences of 5 years, on probation. However, most of the charges against the couple have not been dropped and, while on probation, Leyla and Arif Yunus will not be able to leave the country. We remain seriously concerned about the state of health of Leyla Yunus, who has been diagnosed with diabetes and hepatitis C, and that of Arif Yunus, who suffers from high blood pressure. There are doubts that adequate medical assistance can be provided to Leyla Yunus in Azerbaijan.

As part of the ongoing civil society crackdown in Azerbaijan, Leyla and her husband Arif were arrested in late July and early August 2014, respectively. On 13 August 2015, they were convicted on charges of large‑scale fraud and tax evasion. Leyla was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison and Arif to 7 years. While in detention, they were humiliated by police officers, put in overcrowded cells, beaten several times and deprived of much needed medical treatment. On 13 November 2015, Arif Yunus was released under house arrest on health grounds. When ruling to change the sentences, the court of appeal dropped the charges of forgery, but retained others. The court also lifted the order to seize the house owned by the couple.

We, members of the Civic Solidarity Platform and the Sports for Rights Campaign, consider the new developments in the case of Arif and Leyla Yunus to be positive and a first step in the right direction. However, we continue to call for all charges against the couple to be dropped. Leyla Yunus requires an urgent medical examination and she should be granted the right to receive medical treatment abroad if necessary. Arif Yunus must also be provided with swift and adequate medical assistance.

Leyla and Arif Yunus are not the only political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Dozens of other civil society activists, human rights lawyers and journalists remain in detention or prison in Azerbaijan solely due to their professional activities and the peaceful and legitimate exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms. They should be immediately and unconditionally released. The Azerbaijani government must respect its commitments before its own people, as well as its obligations under international human rights law.


Signed by:

Analytical Center for Interethnic Cooperation and Consultations

Article 19

Association UMDPL

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

Baris Zvozkau Belarusian Human Rights House

Center for Civil liberties

Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights

Crude Accountability

Freedom Files

Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Human Rights House Foundation

Human Rights Monitoring Institute

Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan”

Index on Censorship

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Partnership for Human Rights

Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law

Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims

KRF Public Alternative

Legal Transformation Center

Moscow Helsinki Group

Netherlands Helsinki Committee

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Nota Bene

Promo LEX

Public Verdict Foundation

SOVA Center for Information and Analyses

Sports For Rights

Swiss Helsinki Committee

World Organization against Torture (OMCT)

Sport for Rights coalition condemns conviction of human rights defenders

The Sport for Rights coalition condemns the conviction and harsh sentencing of Azerbaijani human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus on 13 August by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes. After a trial marred by irregularities and due process violations, the court convicted the couple on politically motivated charges including illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and fraud, and sentenced Leyla to 8.5 years in jail, and Arif to seven.

“These sentences are outrageous, and aimed purely at sanctioning the legitimate work of these two Azerbaijani human rights defenders. While the heavy sentences are no surprise, they serve to further undermine Azerbaijan’s complete disregard for the international standards of fair trial and due process”, said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH Honorary President.

“The unprecedented speed with which the Yunus trial was carried out is appalling and tells us a lot about its quality. The judgment is full of inaccuracies due to a total lack of examination of the evidence provided. Violations of international standards of the right to a fair trial were obvious”, declared Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT.

Leyla, the Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, and Arif, a historian and activist in his own right, were arrested in July and August 2014, following Leyla’s public calls for a boycott of the inaugural European Games, which were held in Baku in June 2015. Sport for Rights considered them ‘Prisoners of the Games. Leyla had also been working to compile a detailed list of cases of political prisoners, and was a strong advocate of fundamental freedoms, property rights, and peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The couple have been held in separate facilities; Leyla in the Kurdakhani investigative detention unit, and Arif at the Ministry of National Security’s investigative prison. Leyla reported being mistreated on several occasions, and Arif reported poor conditions. Both Leyla and Arif suffer from serious health problems, which have sharply deteriorated in detention, and have caused delays during trial proceedings, including on the day of the verdict, when Arif fainted and was attended to by a doctor. Nonetheless, the authorities resisted calls for their release on humanitarian grounds, and the court rushed to issue a verdict.

“The health situation of Leyla and Arif Yunus is extremely worrying and deserves the highest attention of the international community. Whilst we are thankful for the international attention brought to the case by some voices, we remain concerned by the lack of action of the Council of Europe and the European Union. It is clear that the climate of fear has reached a new low with these sentences and the killing of journalist Rasim Aliyev”,said Ane Tusvik Bonde, Regional Manager for Eastern Europe and Caucasus of the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF).

The Yunus’ conviction takes place amidst a broader human rights crackdown in Azerbaijan, in the aftermath of the European Games and the run-up to November’s parliamentary elections. The same week as the verdict in the Yunus’ case, journalist Khadija Ismayilova also stood trial, facing serious jail time on politically motivated charges, and Rasim Aliyev, journalist and Chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, died in hospital after being severely beaten. With less than three months until the parliamentary elections, the Azerbaijani authorities seem determined to continue working aggressively to silence the few critical voices left in the country.

The Sport for Rights coalition reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of Leyla and Arif Yunus, as well as the other jailed journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. Sport for Rights further calls for sustained international attention to the country and increased efforts to hold the Azerbaijani regime responsible for its human rights obligations in the pre-election environment and beyond.

Supporting organisations:
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Civil Rights Defenders
Freedom Now
Front Line Defenders
Human Rights House Foundation
Index on Censorship
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
PEN American Centre
Solidarity with Belarus Information Office
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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Azerbaijan’s authorities reach new low in sentencing of Leyla and Arif Yunus

Index on Censorship strongly condemns the sentencing of Leyla and Arif Yunus to 8.5 and 7 years in prison, respectively. The ongoing and capricious judicial harassment of Azerbaijan’s civil society by the government of President Ilham Aliyev has reached a new low.

Leyla Yunus, founder and director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, and her husband, historian Arif Yunus, have been detained since summer 2014 when they were arrested on charges of treason and fraud.

Index calls on the international community to take concrete actions to pressure the government of Azerbaijan to respect freedom of expression and release all journalists and human rights activists in prison.

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