Azerbaijan: Measure of restraint against Mr. Arif Yunusov changed from detention to conditional release for the period of appeal

New information
AZE 002 / 0414 / OBS 031.12
Conditional release / Arbitrary detention /
Deterioration of health / Judicial harassment /
Torture and ill-treatment
Azerbaijan
November 13, 2015

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the 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.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about new developments concerning the appeal trial against Ms. Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) and a member of OMCT General Assembly, and Mr. Arif Yunusov, husband of Ms. Yunus and Head of the Conflictology Department of IPD.

According to the information provided by the Observatory trial observer who attended the hearing held yesterday in the Azerbaijan capital, the Baku Grave Crimes Court approved the request to change the measure of restraint against Mr. Arif Yunusov from detention to conditional release, for the period of appeal. Under the terms of the decision, Mr. Yunusov cannot leave Baku. The decision was adopted despite the opposition of the prosecutor. It was based on a medical reference provided by the Head of the Department of Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice, stressing that the critical health situation of Mr. Yunusov had required his transfer from the Isolator of the Ministry of National Security to the Medical Establishment of the Ministry of Justice. The reference indicated that while transfer had allowed his situation to be normalised temporarily, it remained problematic to ensure stable blood pressure under the conditions of imprisonment. The document reportedly also referred to the medical inspection of German doctor Christian Witt, which had confirmed the deterioration of his health. The Baku Grave Crimes Court could review its decision in case of a positive change in the health of Mr. Yunusov.

The Observatory welcomes this long-awaited decision concerning Mr. Yunusov, which had been denied on several occasions over the past months in spite of his deteriorating health. The Observatory reiterates its call for a similar measure being granted to Ms. Leyla Yunus, as a first step to the unconditional release of Ms. Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov.

During the November-12 hearing, the lawyers of the defendants indeed also asked the court to consider a similar measure for Ms. Leyla Yunus given her critical health condition, but the court did not even allow them to finalise their request and interrupted them on the grounds that the abovementioned medical reference referred only to Mr. Arif Yunusov. Speaking from the glass courtroom cage, Mr. Yunusov demanded the release of his wife based on her critical health condition.

According to the same information, Ms. Leyla Yunus, who looked very weak and ill during the hearing, denounced that the bruises in her neck that had been reported during the previous hearing in November 5, had been inflicted by her inmate. The Observatory reiterates its call for a prompt, effective and independent investigation into these acts of ill-treatment against Ms. Leyla Yunus.

The next hearing is scheduled for December 7, 2015.

The Observatory calls on the Azeri authorities to build on the positive decision issued on November 12 in the case of Mr. Yunusov by immediately and unconditionally putting an end to the ongoing judicial harassment against Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov, since it is only aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities.

Background information:

Ms. Leyla Yunus has long fought for human rights and the rights of ethnic minorities in her country. She has been heading the IPD since 1995. In October 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was awarded the Polish Prize of Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and was among the three finalists for the Sakharov Prize. She also received the distinction of “Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur” of the French Republic in 2013. She has worked on numerous projects relating to human rights, political persecution, corruption, human trafficking, gender-based issues and violations of the right to property. Ms. Yunus and two other detained human rights defenders, Messrs. Intigam Aliyev and Rasul Jafarov, were members of a group compiling a list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

With her husband, Ms. Yunus has also worked towards reconciliation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two countries divided by the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Ms. Leyla Yunus has been involved since 2005 in the “Track II Diplomacy” Initiative, and initiated a project of dialogue between Azeri and Armenians, developed jointly with a regional research centre in Armenia.

On April 28, 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was reportedly invited to the Investigation Department of Serious Crimes of the Office of Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan in order to testify as a witness in the criminal case against journalist Mr. Rauf Mirqadirov, columnist and press correspondent in Turkey for the independent newspaper Zerkalo. Later in the evening, they were banned from boarding a plane to Paris via Doha. The authorities seized their luggage, conducted a search without presenting them any court order, and seized a laptop, a video camera, USB flash drives and paper records. Their lawyer Khalid Bagirov was denied access to the couple.

On April 29, 2014, Ms. Yunus was interrogated for nine hours in relation to the case against journalist Rauf Mirqadirov and was later released.

On July 30, 2014, Ms. Yunus was arrested again by the Prosecutor’s office on charges of “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), and brought to the department of grave crimes of the General Prosecutor’s Office, where she had to undergo a six-hour questioning. Her husband joined her at the department of grave crimes of the General Prosecutor’s Office, where he was also questioned. Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were both formally charged, and placed in pre-trial detention. Mr. Yunusov was later placed under house arrest, and placed in detention again on August 5, for violation of his conditional sentence.

Following international criticism over harsh conditions of detention, Ms. Yunus was examined in December 2014 by German doctor, whose official results were not made public. Ms. Yunus’ lawyer, who visited her on February 8, nonetheless reported that she was suffering from sight problems, and that she was continuing to lose weight.

At the end of 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was deprived of her lawyer, Mr. Javad Javadov, following his criticism of the judicial process against Ms. Leyla Yunus during a court hearing on October 24, 2014. A few days later, her second lawyer, Mr. Khalid Bagirov, was also removed from the case. Her third lawyer, Mr. Alaif Hasanov, was subjected to a lawsuit by Ms. Nuriya Huseynova – a cellmate of Leyla Yunus – who accused him of passing information to the media. Mr. Alaif Hasanov was the first lawyer to speak out about the physical pressure exercised by her cell mate over Ms. Leyla Yunus.

On January 5, 2015 and February 2, 2015, the European Court of Human Rights communicated on two applications filed for violations of the rights of Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov.

On July 15, 2015, the trial opened in the Baku Grave Crimes Court. During trial, Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were placed in a glass courtroom cage, with their Azeri to Russian interpreter sitting near the cage (both are Russian-speaking, and the hearings were held in Azeri). Local and international observers were often denied access to the courtroom without explanation and hearings were held in the smallest room of the court house.

During the trial, the lawyers of Ms. Yunus regularly argued that continued detention was life threatening to Ms. Yunus, highlighting that Ms. Yunus was suffering from diabetes, hepatitis C, and a liver enlargement and deterioration. The lawyer also denounced the poor conditions of detention of his client at the Investigative prison of the Ministry of National Security, where Mr. Arif Yunusov suffers from insomnia high blood pressure. Throughout the trial, all motions filed by the defence lawyers, including the request to sit next to his clients, were dismissed.

At the hearing of August 3, 2015, an ambulance was called in order to provide first aid healthcare to Mr. Yunusov, who fainted due to a worryingly high arterial pressure. Mr. Yunus later regained consciousness but the doctor of the National Security prison who was called to the court after the health incident, reportedly stated that Mr. Yunusov health condition did not allow him to further participate in the trial. However, the judge decided to adjourn the hearing to the next day, August 4, 2015.

On August 13, Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were convicted to 8.5 and 7 years in jail respectively. Mr. Arif Yunusov fainted while making his final plea.

On October 12, the appeal trial of Ms. Leyla and Mr. Arif Yunusov opened before the Baku Court of Appeal. The hearing was suspended several times. International observers present reported that Ms. Yunus looked very weak and denounced being refused the medical treatment prescribed by the German doctor.

On October 20, the Baku Court of Appeal decided to refer the criminal case against Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov back to the Baku Grave Crimes Court, following a complaint filed by their lawyer, Mr. Elchin Sadiqov, highlighting inaccuracies in the minutes of the hearings of the trial before the lower court. On November 5, 2015, the court considered this motion, but did not provide its conclusions to the defence attorneys during the preliminary hearing held before the Baku Court of Appeal.

During the hearing on November 5, all the motions filed by their lawyers were dismissed by the presiding judge Vugar Mammadov, including the motion to change the measure of restraint from detention to house arrest considering in particular their health condition and to partial re-examination of the case. Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov’s lawyer was not allowed to meet and discuss with his clients before, during and after the hearing. During the hearing, several large bruises were visible on the neck of Leyla Yunus. Both Arif and Leyla Yunus looked visibly exhausted and weak. Mr. Arif Yunus was reported to have been brought to the court room from the hospital. Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov’s lawyer announced that he will file a complaint regarding potential acts of ill-treatment. Placed in a glass cage before the observers were allowed to the courtroom, the two stayed silent during the whole hearing.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging them to:

i. Change the measure of restraint of Ms. Leyla Yunus from detention to house arrest as a first step to the unconditional release of Ms. Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov;

ii. Ensure that both can receive the medical care they need including medication and hospitalisation as required;

iii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, and all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

iv. Carry out a prompt, effective and independent investigation into the allegations of ill treatment against Ms. Leyla Yunus;

v. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial and investigatory levels - against Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, and more generally all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

vi. 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”;

vii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Azerbaijan.

Addresses:

· 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: office@pa.gov.az, office@apparat.gov.az
· 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: z.qaralov@prosecutor.gov.az, info@prosecutor.gov.az
· 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: cpr@mns.gov.az
· 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: katiblik@mfa.gov.az
· Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, Inshaatchilar Prospekti, 1 Baku, Azerbaijan, e-mail: contact@justice.gov.az; 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: geneva@mission.mfa.gov.az
· 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.

Geneva-Paris, November 13, 2015

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
· Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
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