GENEVA (20 August 2015) – A group of United Nations human rights experts* today condemned the recent prison sentencing of prominent Azerbaijani human rights activists Leyla and Arif Yunus as “manifestly politically motivated and representative of the continuing repression of independent civil society in Azerbaijan.”
On 13 August 2015, the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced Ms. and Mr. Yunus to eight and a half and seven years’ imprisonment respectively on charges of fraud, tax evasion, and illegal entrepreneurship. They also face charges of treason.
“The authorities of Azerbaijan must put an end immediately to all forms of persecution against human rights activists in the country,” the experts said. “Leyla and Arif Yunus are two of many activists in Azerbaijan, which include Anar Mammadli, Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev, who have been targeted because of their legitimate human rights work.”
“Criminalization of those working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country is deeply disconcerting,” the experts said, reiterating a call on the authorities they made one year ago “to reverse the trend of repression, criminalization and prosecution of human rights work in the country.”
“Silencing these prominent voices is having a devastating impact on the Azerbaijani civil society as a whole,” the experts warned.
They expressed further concern about the serious deterioration of the health of the two human rights activists during their extended period in pre-trial detention, as well as throughout the course of their trial. “We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately provide them with adequate medical care,” they said.
The human rights experts also drew attention to the fact that Ms. and Mr. Yunus’ trial fell short of international norms and standards on the right to a fair trial. “We are troubled at the lack of examination of the evidence provided and the refusal to allow international independent observers into the courtroom during the trial proceedings,” the experts noted.
The UN experts reminded the Azerbaijani authorities of their legal obligations under international human rights law that guarantees everyone in Azerbaijan the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and association, the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty, the right to a fair trial and the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
“The State has the primary responsibility to protect human rights defenders from any form of harassment, intimidation and retaliation arising as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities,” they stressed.
(*) The experts: Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; Mónica Pinto, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Dainius Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right to health; and Seong-Phil Hong, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.