Arif and Leyla Yunus, prominent Azerbaijani human rights activists, to be put on wanted list
The Baku City Court of Appeals madea ruling on 17 May that spouses Arif and Leyla Yunus should be forcefully brought to the next court hearing. In the event they don’t show up for the hearing, they will be put on the international wanted list.
Leyla Yunus, the Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy human rights NGO, and her spouse, Arif Yunus, a historian and expert on conflict issues, were arrested in the summer of 2014 as part of a crackdown on dozens of local and international NGOs. They were initially charged with spying for Armenia. However, in August 2015, the Yunus couple were sentenced for a lengthy term of imprisonment for economic crimes, namely tax evasion and illegal entrepreneurship.
In December 2015, following an international organizations’ protests, the sentence against Leyla and Arif Yunus was commuted to a release on probation, and they were freed. The couple were allowed to leave abroad for medical treatment in April 2016.
The Yunus couple filed a claim against the court verdict. The Azerbaijani Supreme Court postponed consideration of their claim on a number of occasions. Finally, on 27 December, the Supreme Court remitted the case for a re-trial to the Appeals Court.
The re-trial started on 19 April, and, based on the public prosecutor’s petition, the court ruled out re-investigation of the case. The prosecutor insisted on the presence of the Yunus couple.
At the court hearing on 17 May, Elchin Sadigov, the lawyer defending the Yunus couple, appealed for interrogation of the Yunus couple via Internet, as they were receiving long-term treatment abroad. However, the court turned down the petition and ordered to forcefully bring the spouses to the next hearing, scheduled for 31 May, at noon.
The lawyer said that police will be tasked with bringing the spouses before the court, with the next step being placed on the wanted list. He termed the court ruling as inappropriate.
As he explained, there wasn’t any appeal or protest lodged against the Yunus couple and therefore a re-trial wasn’t justified.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to remit the case for re-trial to the Appeals Court was aimed at putting them on the international wanted list,” Sadigov told Turan news agency.