Azerbaijan: Husband and wife activists jailed after European Games protest

An activist who called for a boycott of the European Games on human rights grounds has been jailed for eight-and-a-half years today, and her husband for seven, in a move that reveals the ongoing criminalisation of those who speak out against the authorities in Azerbaijan, Amnesty International said.

Leyla and Arif Yunus were convicted for “fraud” and other crimes related to their NGO work at a trial in the capital Baku. International observers and journalists were refused entry to the court and only a handful of diplomats were allowed to attend.

A charge of treason, purportedly for spying for Armenia, is also pending against the couple, but it has been sent to a separate court for consideration.

Leyla Yunus is the director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy and before her arrest had been documenting the treatment of political prisoners in Azerbaijan by the authorities. Arif Yunus is a historian and political activist.

Leyla was arrested on 30 July last year, five days after organising a press conference calling for an international boycott of the European Games, which were held in Baku in this June. Arif was arrested a few days later.

Amnesty believes the charges against the couple were clearly fabricated in retaliation for their legitimate human rights work and criticism of the Azerbaijani government.

Levan Asatiani, Azerbaijan campaigner at Amnesty International, said:

“These absurd charges have resulted in harsh sentences for Azerbaijan’s prominent human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus. We urge the government to quash these convictions. Leyla and Arif Yunus are prisoners of conscience and they must be immediately and unconditionally released.

“The judicial system has once again revealed itself to be no more than a cynical tool by which President Ilham Aliyev crushes any dissent or criticism of his regime. His government’s human rights record is simply shocking.”

Leyla and Arif Yunus both suffer from serious medical problems and their health has deteriorated further in detention. Today, Arif Yunus lost consciousness during the court hearing. He suffered two strokes in April 2014 and his family fears that he may not survive another.

Leyla Yunus has been diagnosed with diabetes and hepatitis C and has reduced vision in her left eye. She has not received adequate medical care in prison and the authorities have refused to transfer her to a hospital. She has reported being threatened, harassed and ill-treated after asking for medical care.

 

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