Dinara Yunus, daughter of Leyla and Arif Yunus recently wrote for the Dutch Press calling on the Dutch government not to stay ignorant and call for her parents immediate release.
We hereby share with you the article in its English translation.
The Perils of Seeking Justice in a Former Soviet Country
By Dinara Yunus
When I moved to Amsterdam in 2009, I had dreams of going to business school and having a career in fashion. I never imagined I would become a full-time human rights activist, fighting for the freedom of my parents. But that is what has happened. Living in the Netherlands has been a wonderful experience, but now I have to ask for the government’s help to free my parents.
Both of my parents are historians who have dedicated 30 years of their lives to human rights work. Their activism goes back to Soviet times, when my mum and dad, Leyla and Arif Yunus, were among the first to create a list of political prisoners in our native Azerbaijan and disseminate it worldwide.
In 1995, my mum established the Institute for Peace and Democracy. The scope of her activities has widened, but her focus has been on protecting political prisoners in Azerbaijan with lists of people locked up and details of violations during investigation of their cases, in detention, and in court. My parents wanted these prisoners to find freedom and justice.
Now they are behind bars themselves, treated as criminals among criminals, with absurd charges against them. My mum was arrested on July 30 and my dad on August 5. I quote my mum’s letter to my dad, Arif, from prison: “You and I often read novels about political prisoners that saw the sky behind bars. And now every day I look at the sky behind the bars…”
No one anticipated my mum’s arrest because her work has been recognized internationally; She is a Knight of the French Legion of Honor and winner of Germany’s Theodore Hacker Prize.
Now my parents have joined the ranks of the many victims of repression of Ilham Aliyev’s regime.
Of course sending critics to prison isn’t the only sign of abuse in Azerbaijan these days. Back in 2012, when Azerbaijan was host to the Eurovision song contest, many people were deprived of their property rights.
Just imagine that you are sitting at your own house, and then the police come and brutally kick you out, push your mother out, and kids, speak to your sister in a humiliating way then demolish the house. My mum made these facts known, and there were so many. Then they demolished my parents’ home, which was also the office for the Institute for Peace and Democracy.
But it got worse. Both my parents are accused of treason on top of other charges. They were engaged in people’s diplomacy in a joint Azerbaijan-Armenian website for public dialogue over the longtime dispute between these countries about the Karabakh region.
My mum’s voice has not been quitted though, and I am grateful to journalists who publish the letters to my dad she writes from prison, further risking her safety. The world needs to know what dissidents are going through in Azerbaijan, how human rights defenders are punished for their activities, just because they stand up for constitutional principles.
“I see how they are doing their best to break me,” she wrote, I know she is in prison covered in bruises, exposed to attacks by other inmates. She warned that serious provocations were being prepared against her. When she asked for protection from the attacks, the authorities reprimanded her.
When Europe adopted a recent resolution on Azerbaijan, it gave me hope for change. But the latest news from home indicates that situation is just getting worse. My mum was deprived of her right to see her lawyer. Prison staff says she is too sick to see lawyers. But she is also not allowed to call. Why was she is not transferred to the hospital? For four weeks, I have not had information about my dad, who had a minor stroke when my parents were first detained. For weeks, friends were not allowed to deliver food, medicine, or even spare underwear to either of my parents.
My dad, an author of many books and articles, human rights defender, and peacemaker, is also facing absurd charges. He is in the detention facility of the Ministry of National Security, where torture takes place. He is prohibited from writing letters or calling, so no one really knows how he is doing. Every day I ask myself questions, what if he feels bad — will he get adequate and immediate medical care? Will there be a doctor by him? Will they let him suffer in pain?
When my parents were initially illegally detained and my dad had the minor stroke, doctors wanted to take him to the hospital. But investigators refused to call an ambulance for the first critical 30 minutes after his stroke. They instead released him for a few days, and then detained him again. He is not young, has high blood pressure and problems with heart. He needs his medication.
Can you imagine how my dad feels, isolated from the world in his cell and fearing for my mother’s life, fearing he won’t survive and won’t be there when she’s in agonizing pain? Can you imagine the pain from humiliations, insults, and attacks my mum is exposed to in prison, not to mention the pain of separation from my dad and me? This authoritarian regime knows no boundaries in destroying physically and psychologically my family, for their human rights work.
I hope the Dutch government won’t leave my parents alone in this life-threatening situation and today they will speak out and demand for my parents’ immediate and unconditional release.
Because I am afraid. I am afraid that tomorrow could be too late.