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Human Rights Watch urges Azerbaijani authorities to release human rights defenders

10 August 2015

Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release and stop the prosecution of Leyla and Arif Yunus, elderly human rights defenders who are both in grave health, Human Rights Watch urged on 7 August.

"The decision to lock up and prosecute Leyla and Arif Yunus was already a travesty of justice, but to pursue the trial given their poor health is despicable," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Both human rights defenders are in pre-trial detention now, in poor condition. On 3 August 2015, Arif Yunus’s blood pressure spiked, and he lost consciousness while standing trial in court. He received medical care during subsequent hearings on 4 and 5 August, but could barely sit up and spent the trial lying in his wife’s lap in the glass-enclosed defendants’ cage.

Elchin Gambarov, a lawyer for Leyla Yunus, told Human Rights Watch that she suffered from severe diabetes and Hepatitis C and required regular treatment, including a special diet. Leyla Yunus has been kept in custody since 30 July 2014. Starting from 31 July 2015 her condition worsened, but she did not receive appropriate medical care.

Leyla Yunus, one of Azerbaijan’s leading human rights activists, is head of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, and her husband, Arif, is a historian who was an expert adviser for the group. The Yunuses are on trial on charges of tax evasion and other economic crimes, punishable by up to 12 years in prison. They have also been charged with treason, for which the authorities have said they will be tried later.

Adapted from Human Rights Watch

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