Human rights activists Leyla and Arif Yunus left Azerbaijan for the Netherlands on April 19 to receive urgent medical care.
The European Union welcomed the decision of Azerbaijani authorities to allow the couple to receive medical help abroad.
“The compassionate decision of the Azerbaijani authorities to allow the Yunus’ to leave the country further contributes to the enhancement of relations between the European Union and Azerbaijan. We continue to call for the full release and rehabilitation of all those currently imprisoned or under restricted movement in Azerbaijan on political grounds, in line with Azerbaijan’s international commitments,” the EU posted on its
The US Department of State also
the move as “another positive step” but called on the government to “take additional steps and unconditionally release all individuals who have been incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”
In the Netherlands, the couple reunited with their daughter Dinara.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders
Leyla and Arif Yunus “had put their own safety and happiness at stake in the struggle for democracy and human rights.”
The decision by authorities to allow the couple to travel comes as a surprise. Last month, an appeals court in Baku ruled the two could not travel to Europe because of their suspended prison terms.
Leyla Yunus, 59, is the head of the unregistered Institute for Peace and Democracy. Last August, she was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison on charges of large-scale fraud, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and falsifying official documents, widely as seen as politicized. The sentence was converted into a suspended term of 5 years last December on humanitarian grounds. Her husband Arif, an award-winning activist and historian, was sentenced to 7 years in August on similar charges. Leyla Yunus suffers from diabetes and hepatitis C.
Prior to their August 2014 arrest, the couple was a strong critic of Azerbaijan’s human rights record, and Leyla documented the treatment of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. They were described as political prisoners by human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.