Today’s conditional release of Leyla Yunus, one of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights defenders, should be followed by immediately and unconditionally setting all prisoners of conscience free, Amnesty International said.
“This is a step in the right direction that will send a crucial message of hope on the eve of International Human Rights Day. It should open the door to unconditional freedom, not just for Leyla Yunus, but all prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“Azerbaijani authorities must now quash all charges against Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif and remove any conditions attached to her release.”
Leyla and Arif Yunus were convicted on 13 August 2015 for “fraud” and other purported crimes related to their NGO work. They faced prison sentences of eight and seven-and-a-half years, respectively. Arif Yunus was released on medical grounds on 12 November.
Amnesty International recognized the couple as prisoners of conscience who were convicted of trumped-up charges. They also face separate charges for “high treason”, yet to be heard in a different court.
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of 18 other prisoners of conscience in the country. Earlier this year Azerbaijan’s authorities ramped up their crackdown on the right to freedom of expression by creating a “criticism-free zone” around the ill-fated inaugural European Games in June 2015.