Dear Baku: Stop beating activist. Release her. Drop treason charge!

October 7, 2014

Leila Yunus
Leila Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy
Leila Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy

Arresting its loudest critic and charging her with “treason” doesn’t seem enough for Azerbaijani officials. Last week, peace activist and human rights defender

was beaten by Kurdakhany detention facility administration staff.

An April 2014 video shows Leyla Yunus confronting officials (in Russian) about not having been allowed to use the toilet during an unlawful detention for interrogation. Although officials eventually allowed her to use a toilet (with a male guard watching her), Leyla says she was not informed of charges against her.

Less than half a year later after the detention, Leyla (and soon her husband Arif Yunus) were arrested and given ridiculous charges of treason and tax evasion. Amnesty International considers both Prisoners of Conscience and calls on Baku to release them immediately and unconditionally (add your voice to our appeal).

Those familiar with the complex ethnic conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (which resulted in 30,000 deaths in the early 1990s) between ex-Soviet neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan will appreciate a US State Department official’s statement that harassment against Leyla and Arif Yunus presents a chilling effect on any contact between Azerbaijanis and Armenians.” 

As the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (the office of this organization was demolished without notice in 2011), Leyla Yunus is one of few courageous activists in Azerbaijan who cooperate on reconciliation projects with intellectuals in Armenia. Her husband Arif also worked at the Institute.

While administrations in both countries use the nationalist card, the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has been accused of capitalizing on anti-Armenian sentiments in order to maintain his family’s several-decade-long rule and de facto control of oil resources.

(Amnesty International has recognized 23 people as prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan, jailed solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.)

In fact, an Azerbaijani official has stated that Leyla Yunus “is not a woman… [but] Armenian.” Working for peace is not a crime. Please take action to tell Baku that the world is listening to its loudest voices for peace, even as they are beaten behind bars.