The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Azerbaijan.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the arbitrary arrest and acts of harassment of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) and a member of OMCT General Assembly, and her husband, Mr. Arif Yunusov, Head of the Conflictology Department of IPD.
According to the information received, on July 30, 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was travelling to a press conference in the capital of Baku when three men in civilian dress stopped her car and forced her driver to change direction; the men confiscated the cell phones of Ms. Yunus and the driver. Ms. Yunus was secretly driven to Department of Serious Crimes, where prosecutors interrogated her for six hours. It was not until several hours later that the Office of the Prosecutor General telephoned Ms. Yunus’ husband and informed him that Ms. Yunus had been detained. Mr. Yunusov went to the Prosecutor’s office and was subsequently interrogated and detained as well.
Police eventually charged Ms. Yunus with “treason” (Article 274 of the Criminal Code), “large-scale fraud” (Article (178.3.2), “forgery” (Article 320), “tax evasion” (Article 213), and “illegal business” (Article 192); Mr. Yunusov was charged with “treason” and “fraud”. The Court, however, never explained the basis for the charges, the punishments for which ranges from heavy fines to life in prison.
The Nasimi District Court subsequently sentenced Ms. Yunus to three months pre-trial detention while Mr. Yunusov is under house arrest due to his health condition.
The Observatory expresses its concern about the arbitrary arrest and harassment of Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov, and calls upon the authorities in Azerbaijan to put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial level - against them as it seems to only aim at sanctioning their activities. The Observatory is also concerned by Ms. Yunus’ health in detention as she suffers from severe diabetes.
On April 28, 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was reportedly invited as a witness on the criminal case of journalist Rauf Mirqadirov to the Investigation Department of Serious Crimes of the Office of Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan. That evening, however, Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were detained at the Baku Heydar Aliyev airport where authorities confiscated their passports and seized a laptop and paper records while denying Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov the right to see their lawyer. They were trying to fly to Paris via Doha. An attempted search of the Yunus apartment later that night resulted in the hospitalization of Mr. Yunusov for a pre-stroke condition.
The next morning, April 29, 2014, Mrs. Yunus was taken to the Investigation Department of Serious Crimes of the General Prosecutor’s Office and interrogated for nine hours, including about joint projects of the IPD and Armenian NGOs as well as her relations with journalist Rauf Mirqadirov. During her questioning, Ms. Yunus alleged that she knows Mr. Mirqadirov only as a friend and good journalist. Later that night, police searched the offices of the IPD as well as the Yunus’ private residence, confiscating several computers, books, and print materials.
As of today, the passports of Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov have not been returned yet.
Moreover, the day before her arrest, on July 29, 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus wrote a letter to the President of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, criticising the arrest of many critics of his regime and human rights defenders.
Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov as well as of all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Leyla Yunus from pre-trial detention and Mr. Yunusov from house arrest, since their detention is arbitrary as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;
iii. Remove all travel restrictions placed upon Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov;
iv. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial and investigatory levels - against Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, her relatives and more generally against all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;
v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:
Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;
Article 5, which underscores the right of every individual to form, join, and participate in non-governmental organizations; and
Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;
vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Azerbaijan.
· Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 19 Istiqlaliyyat St., Baku AZ1066, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 25, (+994) 412 92 28 68, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
· Mr. Zakir Garalov, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prosecutor’s Office, 7 Nigar Rafibeyli St., Baku, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 82, (+994) 12 492 26 63, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
· Mr. Eldar Mahmudov, Minister of National Security, Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Parliament Avenue 14, Baku AZ1006, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 493-76-22, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Ramil Usubov, Minister of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijani Republic, Fax: (+994) 12 492 45 90
· Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: email@example.com
· Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, Inshaatchilar Prospekti, 1 Baku, Azerbaijan, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Fax (+994) 12 430 09 81
· H.E. Mr. Murad N. Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, Route des Fayards 237, CH-1290 Versoix, Switzerland, Fax: (+41) 22 901 18 44, E-mail: email@example.com
· Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels, Avenue Moliere 464, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: (+32) 2 345 91 85
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.