Azerbaijan/The Netherlands: Azeri Court issues decision ordering Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov to be forcibly returned to Azerbaijan

18/05/2017
Urgent Appeal
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New information
AZE 002 / 0414 / OBS 031.14

Judicial harassment
Azerbaijan / The Netherlands
May 18, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and 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 a decision issued yesterday by the Appeals Court of Baku, Azerbaijan, ordering 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 IPD Conflictology Department, to be forcibly returned to Azerbaijan from the Netherlands in order to participate in new hearings in their case.

According to the information received, on May 17, 2017, the Baku Court of Appeals rejected a motion filed by the lawyer of Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov to allow them to take part in hearings via videoconference. The court also ruled that the next hearing will be held on May 31, and requested Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov to be sent back to the country by force. This may lead to an international arrest warrant to be issued by the Azeri authorities. These new hearings in the case stem from an appeal lodged by the Yunuses in order to seek full exoneration in relation to their conviction on trumped-up charges of fraud and tax evasion in 2015 (see background information).

The Observatory recalls that Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov were arbitrarily detained for nearly one year and a half. On August 13, 2015, after a year in pre-trial detention, they were sentenced to 8,5 and 7 years of imprisonment respectively on following a trial that grossly disregarded international standards of fair trial and due process. On December 9, 2015, their sentence was suspended and commuted to a release on probation for five years. After the Baku Court of Appeals denied the Yunus couple permission to temporarily leave the country in order to receive urgent medical treatment on February 11 and March 11, 2016, they were finally allowed to travel to The Netherlands on April 19, 2016, where they have stayed since.

The Observatory strongly deplores the May-17 decision of the Baku Court of Appeals, which puts Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov’s physical integrity at serious risk as there are strong reasons to believe that they would be arbitrarily re-arrested upon arrival in Azerbaijan.

The Observatory recalls that Mr. Arif Yunusov suffers from hypertension, and Ms. Leyla Yunus from hepatitis, diabetes, pancreatitis and gallstone disease, which were aggravated after her arrest, and during their detention in Azerbaijan. Both are still in need of medical care.

The Observatory calls on the Azeri authorities to immediately and unconditionally put an end to all forms or attempts of judicial harassment against Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov, and calls on the authorities of the Netherlands to ensure their physical integrity and their personal freedoms by refusing any cooperation with a judicial system that grossly disregards international standards and that sentenced the couple to arbitrary and heavy prison terms under trumped-up charges as a means to sanction 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 prisoners, corruption, human trafficking, gender-based issues and violations of the right to property. 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.

On July 30, 2014, Ms. Yunus was arrested 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 underwent 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.

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 courthouse.

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 their 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, 2015, 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, 2015, 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, 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 reportedly brought to the courtroom from the hospital. Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov’s lawyer announced that he would 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.

On November 12, 2015, 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 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.

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 above mentioned 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.

On December 9, 2015, Ms. Leyla Yunus was released after the Baku Court of Appeal commuted the sentences against her and her husband to a release on probation for five years.

On February 11, 2016, the Yasamal District Court of Baku denied them permission to temporarily leave the country. The decision was appealed by the Yunuses but on March 11, 2016, the Court of Appeals in Baku ruled that Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunus could not travel to Germany to receive urgent medical treatment due to their suspended prison terms.

Action requested:

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

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

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

iii. 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 its Articles 1, 5, and 12.2.

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

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

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov by refusing to cooperate in their forcible return to Azerbaijan for a judicial process that has so far disregarded all international standards.

ii. Guarantee the freedom of movement of Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov by taking all actions at their disposal including diplomatic actions with third countries to ensure that they are not subjected to an international arrest warrant nor included in the Interpol list.

Authorities from Azerbaijan:

·Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: office@pa.gov.az, office@apparat.gov.az
·Mr. Zakir Garalov, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: z.qaralov@prosecutor.gov.az, info@prosecutor.gov.az
·Mr. Eldar Mahmudov, Minister of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: cpr@mns.gov.az
·Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: katiblik@mfa.gov.az
·Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, E-mail: contact@justice.gov.az
·H.E. Mr. Murad N. Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, E-mail: geneva@mission.mfa.gov.az

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.

Authorities from the Netherlands:

·Mr. Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of The Netherlands. E-mail; secretariaatmp@minaz.nl
·Mr. Bert Koenders, Minister of Foreign Affairs. E-mail: bert.koenders@minbuza.nl
·Mr. Kees van Baar, Human Rights Ambassador. E-mail: van.baar@minbuza.nl
·Mr. Robert de Groot, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the European Union. E-mail: BRE@minbuza.nl

***

Geneva-Paris, May 18, 2017

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

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: A ppeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax OMCT +41 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29
· Tel and fax FIDH +33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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