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 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 received, 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 first instance trial. Accordingly, judge Vugar Mammadov postponed the hearing sine die, pending a ruling by the Baku Grave Crimes Court on the comments filed by the lawyer.
According to the same information, both Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov were once again placed in a glass courtroom cage, surrounded this time by a line of 25 bailiffs and guards, so as not to allow them to see or hear what was happening during the hearing.
Besides, the Observatory was also informed that the preparatory hearing in the case against journalist Mr. Rauf Mirqadirov, accused of state treason, has been scheduled for November 4, 2015 before the Baku Grave Crimes Court. Mr. Mirqadirov was arrested on April 19, 2014  on allegations of spying for Armenia. Shortly after, Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov had been questioned in relation to the case brought against Mr. Mirqadirov (see background information). Over the past months, the health condition of Mr. Mirqadirov has been deteriorating while in detention.
The Observatory urges the Azeri authorities to immediately put an end to the judicial harassment against Ms. Yunus, Mr. Yunusov, and Mr. Mirqadirov, as their detention and judicial harassment is only aimed at sanctioning their human rights activities, amidst a wave of ongoing repression against civil society organisations and representatives in Azerbaijan. The Observatory also calls on the authorities to urgently provide adequate medical care to Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov, including medication and hospitalisation as required.
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, Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov, who had just left a hospital where he was treated for heart problems, were accompanied in a diplomatic car to the Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport, as they were planning to fly to Paris via Doha. After check-in, the Yunus couple was stopped by the border guards, and were eventually allowed to cross the border only after the intervention of diplomats. However, at around 11.30 p.m., both were deprived from their boarding passes and passports, and told that they were banned from leaving the country. 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, after being kept awake the whole night, Ms. Yunus was interrogated in relation to the case against journalist Rauf Mirqadirov.
Ms. Yunus’ questioning lasted nine hours, and questions all focused on joint projects between the IPD and Armenian NGOs, as well as on her relations with journalist Mr. Rauf Mirqadirov. Following this questioning, IPD’s premises were searched and the authorities seized all the computers and books belonging to Mr. Yunusov, along with printed documents, including the business card of an Armenian historian. Shortly after, IPD’s bank accounts were frozen. Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were subsequently released.
On July 30, 2014, Ms. Yunus was arrested again by the Prosecutor’s office employees 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. Informed by telephone, 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 arrested again on August 5, for violation of his conditional sentence. Since that date, Mr. Arif Yunusov has been held at the Investigative Prison of the Ministry of National Security, the only remaining prison in Azerbaijan which is not subordinated to the Ministry of Justice. This situation puts him at a high risk of facing torture and ill-treatment and the absence of a proper medical unit in this prison has been denounced by various international human rights bodies such as the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT) or the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).
Following international criticism over harsh conditions of detention, Ms. Yunus was examined in December 2014 by German doctor Christian Witt, whose official results have not been 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. Ms. Yunus, who was repeatedly denied access to medication by the prison authorities, allegedly lost 16 kilograms since her arrest. At a recent hearing on October 15, 2015, she managed to denounce the denial of a two-month medical treatment in jail hospital reportedly prescribed by German doctor Christian Witt, as she was actually allowed to spend only 6 days in hospital and has not received the required treatments since then. In addition, on October 18, 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was transferred to the Investigative Prison of the Ministry of National Security, where she was held until October 24 before being transferred back to Kurdakhani prison.
Furthermore, 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, has been 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 cEuropean Court of Human Rights communicated on two applications filed for violations of the rights of Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov.
On February 18, 2015, the pre-trial detention of Ms.Yunus was extended until July 28, 2015, and on February 23, 2015, the pre-trial detention of Mr. Yunusov was extended to August 5, 2015.
On July 15, 2015, a pre-trial hearing was held at the Baku Grave Crimes Court. 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 persons, and the hearings are held in Azeri).
At that hearing, the lawyer of Ms. Leyla Yunus filed three petitions. First, he asked the judge to authorise the accused to sit beside her lawyer so as to ensure the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to fully guarantee the right to be assisted by a lawyer. Second, he requested permission to videotape and/or record all the hearings pursuant to the principle of publicity of debates. Third, because of the worrying health condition of Ms. Yunus, the lawyer requested that the current measure of imprisonment be changed into house arrest.
The lawyers of Ms. Yunus further argued that her continued detention was life threatening, highlighting that Ms. Yunus is suffering from diabetes, hepatitis C, and a liver enlargement and deterioration.
At the same hearing, the lawyer of Mr. Arif Yunusov filed a petition requesting that the accused be allowed to sit beside his lawyer and that all charges against him be dropped in the absence of evidence of guilt. 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.
The prosecutor asked the court to reject all five petitions. His request was accepted by the judge
On July 27 and 28, 2015, the trial on the merits started at the Baku Grave Crimes Court, presided by judge Mr. Afgan Hajiyev.
On July 27, around 25 local and international observers and journalists were not allowed into the courtroom, including the observer of the Observatory, a number of diplomats, as well as journalists from the BBC. By the time the main entrance was opened, the room was indeed already almost full of persons whom some local activists and journalists identified as court staff and staff from the Ministry of National Security. Moreover, the trial was held in the smallest courtroom, although some of the larger ones were empty at the time. Similar limitations to the principle of transparency and publicity of judicial debates were also noted in the framework of subsequent hearings on July 28, August 3, August 10 and August 13.
At the July-28 hearing, various witnesses were called to testify and declared that the activities of Ms. Yunus had never caused any loss or violations of their rights. The prosecution asked various questions about Ms. Leyla Yunus’ work with Armenian organisations, evidencing the political motivations around the case. The prosecutor also groundlessly accused Ms. Yunus of having received a grant of 700,000 manat (approximately 610,000 euros) and having only transferred 76,000 (approximately 61,000 euros) to the account of an NGO called "Society of Women of the Caucasus for Peace and Democracy". Finally, the defence requested that the ex-wife of journalist Mr. Rauf Mirqadirov be excluded from the list of witnesses, since her testimony had no relation with the merits of the charges being pressed, but the court did not consider the petition.
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. Around 11.50, Mr. Yunusov regained consciousness. Last year, Mr. Yunusov had already undergone two hypertensive crises, during his arrest and the search of his apartment. According to lawyer Afghan Mammadov, 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.
At the August-6 hearing, the Prosecutor requested respectively 11 and 9 years in jail for Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov.
On August 10, the hearing was interrupted after only 15 minutes, as Ms. Yunus refused to be further assisted by two Azeri to Russian interpreters provided by the court, who translated her testimony incorrectly on two occasions. On that day, both Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov looked extremely ill. Mr. Yunusov was accompanied by a doctor in the courtroom and had to take some medicines while sitting in the glass cage. Due to this translation issue, the trial was adjourned to August 13, 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, and once again required immediate medical attention.
On October 12, the appeal trial of Ms. Leyla and Mr. Arif Yunusov opened before the Baku Court of Appeal. The hearing was adjourned to October 15 after only 15 minutes, since Ms. Yunus had received the translation of the charges-sheet into Russian on the day of the session itself.
On October 15, the trial resumed with the presence of diplomats, representatives of local and international human rights organisations and international trial observers, including one mandated by the Observatory.
At the start of the hearing, Mr. Arif Yunusov was placed into a glass cabin. Ms. Yunus was then brought into the room, and appeared very weak. She nonetheless managed to denounce the denial of the medical treatment prescribed by German doctor Christian Witt. She spoke emotionally, was extremely anxious and resisted guards who did not allow her to speak and tried to take her into the cabin. The observers in the room stood up as a sign of solidarity with Ms. Yunus. The judge requested silence, and ordered an opposition leader present in the room to be taken out.
The judge subsequently approved a motion filed by defence lawyer Mr. Elchin Sadiqov to postpone the hearing, as he needed time to study court protocols and documents. The trial was therefore re-scheduled to October 20, 2015. The October-15 hearing lasted only 7 minutes, in a noisy environment. As the judge was speaking, Ms. Yunus complained that she could not hear him from the glass cabin where she and her husband were held.
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, Mr. Rauf Mirqadirov and all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;
ii. Urgently provide adequate medical care to Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov, including medication and hospitalisation as required;
iii. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial and investigatory levels - against Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, Mr. Rauf Mirqadirov and more generally all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;
iv. 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”;
v. 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.
|Geneva-Paris, October 28, 2015|
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
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• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
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