Leyla Yunus detained!
Norwegian Helsinki Committee condemns the detention of prominent Azerbaijani human rights defender Leyla Yunus and raises the alarm she may be facing arrest and criminal charges. Late last night we learned that Leyla Yunus and her husband, historian Arif Yunus were detained at the airport as they were leaving for a conference abroad. They were refused exit from the country, their luggage and home were searched. Leyla Yunus has been interrogated through the night at the general prosecutors’ office in Baku; Arif has been taken to a hospital for medical treatment.
As far as we know, no concrete legal claim has been brought against either of the two, neither Leyla, nor Arif, but we fear an arrest is imminent. If she is arrested, Leyla Yunus will be the first woman human rights defender to be subjected to such serious repercussions in Azerbaijan.
The action taken against them may be connected to their long-term engagement for dialogue between Azerbaijanis and Armenians, and Leyla has established a joint Armenian-Azerbaijani web-site with Laura Bagdasaryan, an Armenian journalist and human rights defender. It is just a few days ago that another promoter of dialogue and a partner of Leyla Yunus, award-winning journalist Rauf Mirgadirov was arrested on "charges of espionage”, risking from seven years to life in prison.
Leyla Yunus has been a human rights defender in Azerbaijan for decades and is director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy. In August 2011, her office was spectacularly demolished just as she was involved in a campaign against the authorities’ extensive expropriation scheme.
Leyla Yunus is a long term partner of Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and has worked extensively to free political prisoners and to document their cases. Now, she risks becoming one herself.
We urge all states and international organisations to loudly protest the detention of Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus and the arrest of Rauf Mirgadirov. Without dialogue there will never be peace, criminalizing it is in itself a crime.