Azerbaijan accuses rights activist Leyla Yunus of spying for Armenia
BAKU - Agence France-Presse
Human Rights Watch called July 31 for the immediate release of Leyla Yunus and her husband from pre-trial detention and for the charges against them to be dropped.The U.S. and human rights groups voiced concern after Azerbaijani authorities charged prominent rights activist Leyla Yunus with treason, accusing her of collaborating with spy agencies of arch-enemy Armenia.
"It is established that in 2002 Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif Yunus... had trained the journalist Rauf Mirkadirov in espionage and has since organised several of his trips to Armenia," the Azerbaijan's prosecutor general's office said in a statement July 31.
It alleged that Arif Yunus, an independent political analyst, had joined several of the trips where they met with Armenian intelligence officials.
It said that Mirkadirov, who was arrested and charged with treason in April, helped Leyla and Arif Yunus pass on to Armenian intelligence photographs of maps showing the location of military units, airfields and other strategic sites.
Leyla Yunus, 57, an award-winning campaigner, was charged on Wednesday with treason, tax evasion, large-scale fraud and falsifying documents, according to her lawyer Dzhavad Dzhavadov. Her 59-year-old husband was charged with treason and fraud.
A fierce critic of Azerbaijan's poor rights record, Leyla Yunus is head of one of Azerbaijan's leading rights groups, the Institute for Peace and Democracy in Baku. She has won several foreign prizes and honours for her work.
The United States said the charges were "deeply concerning and represent a further restriction on peaceful civil society activities in Azerbaijan."
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf called on Baku to "ensure they are afforded all the fair trial guarantees to which all citizens are entitled, and allow them to freely express their views in accordance with international human rights commitments."
Leyla Yunus has long worked with Armenian activists advocating the reconciliation of the two countries, which have been locked in a decades-long conflict over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.
The prosecutor general's office also accused Yunus of carrying out propaganda activities aimed at getting Azerbaijan to recognise Armenia's possession of Nagorny Karabakh following a 1988-1994 conflict that left more than 30,000 dead. Any dissent in Azerbaijan is usually met with a tough government response.
Charges bogus: HRW
Rights groups say the government has been clamping down on opponents since President Ilham Aliyev's election to a third term last year.
Human Rights Watch called July 31 for the immediate release of Leyla Yunus and her husband from pre-trial detention and for the charges against them to be dropped.
The context leading up to these recent charges, including the harassment they have endured over the past four months, make it clear that the charges against Leyla and Arif Yunus are bogus and intended to silence them," said HRW's deputy chief for Europe and Central Asia, Rachel Denber. "The authorities should immediately end this campaign of intimidation against Azerbaijan's leading human rights defenders and allow them to work unimpeded," she said in a statement.
The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, on his Twitter account called the charges against Yunis a reminder of the difficulties rights defenders face in Azerbaijan and urged the government to comply with its human rights obligations.