Wave of Arrests in Azerbaijan, Civil Society Under Seige
- World Movement for Democracy
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Azerbaijani Activists Arrested, Charged With Treason
July 31 (WMD).─ Prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist and World Movement participant, Leyla Yunus, and her husband, Arif Yunus, were both arrested on Wednesday, July 30, and face charges of treason. Arif Yunus was released soon after his arrest to await trial at home for health reasons. The World Movement for Democracy calls on the government of Azerbaijan to release Leyla Yunus immediately, drop the politically motivated charges against her and her husband, and end the harassment and persecution of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan.
Leyla Yunus is the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, a human rights organization that seeks to advance reconciliation between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, and promote the rule of law in Azerbaijan. She was named a Chevalier of the French National Legion of Honor as a tribute to her tireless work promoting human rights. Arif Yunus is a historian who has authored eight books and more than 230 articles on the contemporary history of the Caucasus.
According to Human Rights Watch, on the morning of July 30, 2014, representatives of the Grave Crimes Investigation Unit detained Leyla Yunus while she was en route to a conference at a partner organization, and took her to the general prosecutor’s office. Arif Yunus was detained by plainclothes officers who came to their apartment. According to a statement issued by the Institute for Peace and Democracy, they were interrogated separately for six hours and accused of conspiring with the Armenian Secret Service and passing Armenian military secrets, using their peace building work on the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a pretense for their espionage.
Leyla has been charged with state treason (article 274 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan), large-scale fraud (article 178.3.2), forgery of documents (article 320), tax evasion (article 213), and illegal business activity (article 192), and sentenced to three months pre-trial detention, according to the Human Rights House Foundation. Her husband Arif is charged with state treason and fraud. He has been released from detention for health reasons, but continues to be monitored by Azerbaijani security forces and cannot leave the capital city of Baku. Leyla’s family and friends are calling for her to be released from detention immediately because she is diabetic and requires a special diet.
The government of Azerbaijan has been cracking down on the Yunus’ and all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan in recent months. In April 2014, the World Movement issued a DemocracyAlert for Leyla and her husband because they were in imminent danger of being arrested for their peace building programs working with Armenians. Independent Azerbaijani journalist Rauf Mirgadirov, a participant in the activities of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, was arrested on April 19 on politically motivated charges of espionage.
Arif Yunus believes the motivation for their arrest may be the open letter that Leyla wrote to the president of Azerbaijan on July 29, the day before their arrest, entitled, “What are you afraid of, Mr. President?,” condemning the arrest of youth activists.
The World Movement calls on the international community, particularly the Council of Europeand the United Nations, to take swift action to address the growing persecution of human rights and democracy activists in Azerbaijan and ensure that the government of Azerbaijan respects the democratic principles the country has committed to as a member and current chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
We encourage all World Movement participants to forward this message, or write to the authorities, using the email addresses below:
The Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Mr. Zakir Garalov, the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan
The Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan