Verdict against Leyla and Arif Yunus must be reversed immediately
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee condemns the harsh sentences against the Azerbaijani human rights defenders Leila and Arif Yunus. If the verdicts are not nullified immediately, then it is time to impose targeted sanctions against Azerbaijan´s main human rights perpetrators.
Yesterday, a Baku court sentenced the married couple Leyla and Arif Yunus to 8.5 and 7 years in prison, respectively. -The verdict is a disgrace, and must be nullified immediately. The charges brought against Leyla and Arif Yunus are bogus and politically motivated, and the trial against them lacking all safeguards for fairness. It is clear that the charges were brought against Leyla and Arif because of their long involvement in human rights protection in Azerbaijan. Leyla and Arif Yunus have been brave to criticize the president Aliyev´s dictatorial regime, now they are paying the prize, says Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
The international community must now put pressure on Azerbaijan to ensure the release of Leyla and Arif Yunus, and other political prisoners in the country, including human rights defenders Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev, whose appeals over 7.5 and 6.5 years´ prison sentences were dismissed in recent court decisions.
-Failing their releases, we believe it is time to impose targeted sanctions against Azerbaijan’s main human rights perpetrators, such as Government officials, prosecutors and judges involved in the persecution of human rights defenders, journalists and political activists. The sanctions may include the refusal of visas to the Schengen area and the freezing of any of their bank accounts abroad, similar to those sanctions imposed against Belarusian and Russian officials and individuals, Engesland says. Statements of concern or condemnation are not enough anymore, President Aliyev only learns that his crackdown on civil society is not met by any real consequences. -Now is the time for Norway and like-minded countries to step up and take an initiative to make the sanctions a reality.
-Unless swiftly overturned, we fear that yesterday´s verdict in reality may constitute a death sentence for both Leyla and Arif, Engesland continues. Both have severe health problems and appeared in court visibly under serious physical duress. Leyla has among other ailments diabetes and has been denied proper medical treatment since her arrest a year ago. Arif Yunus has previously suffered two strokes and at risk of a new one.
The verdict against Leyla and Arif Yunus is the latest in a string line of cases where prominent and well known human rights defenders have been sentenced to prison in politically motivated cases. The ongoing crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan must stop.
The cases of Rauf Mirgadirov, Khadija Ismayilova and others will be heard in courts in the coming months, and we fear that without a decisive response from the international community they will also be sentenced to long prison sentences in trials that will fall far short of international standards.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee supports a statement released yesterday by the Sports For Rights campaign, also condemning
the verdict against Leyla and Arif Yunus.
Read the statement here.