Azerbaijan: Lengthy sentences sought for human rights defenders accused of fraud
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OPHRD) has reported that a fourth hearing has been held in the Azeri Government's case against Leyla Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) and her husband Arif Yunusov, who also works for the IPD. On 6 August the court was asked to sentence Yunus to 11 years in jail and Yunusov to nine years on charges of fraud.
According to the OPHRD, the accusations have no merit. "Since the end of the Baku [European] Games, the repression against critic[al] voices amongst the Azeri civil society has intensified. Authorities have recently confirmed harsh jail sentences for human rights defenders such as Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev, in speedy appeal hearings. We fear that Leyla and Arif will face the same fate,” said Souhayr Belhassen, Honorary President of the FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights).
On 27 July, according to the OPHRD, 25 persons - diplomats, domestic and international journalists including the BBC, amd the OPHRD's judicial observer - were prevented from watching the trial in the courtroom. They were also not permitted access to the 3 August hearing.
Gerald Staberock, Secretary-General of the World Organization against Torture, said, "We are dismayed about this new trend which is extremely evident in the hearings following the European Games, namely denying international observers access to the courtroom or undermining their effective independent monitoring presence by not allowing in their interpreters, which amounts to a serious violation of the principles of transparency and publicity of judicial debates.” British newspaper The Guardian has also reported that one of the country’s leading football players, Javid Huseynov, is among six people arrested in connection with the death of Rasim Aliyev, a journalist who criticized him.
After a severe beating, Aliyev died in hospital Sunday. He had criticized Huseynov on Facebook as "ignorant" and unsuitable to represent Azerbaijan in Europe.
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