Leyla and Arif Yunus sentenced to long terms

The Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus to 8.5 and 7 years in prison respectively. The couple also faces separate charges of treason, which could carry a life sentence.

Today on August 13, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus to 8.5 and 7 years in prison respectively.

Arif Yunus, a respected author and historian, was found guilty of large-scale fraud. His Leyla Yunus, the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, was convicted of large-scale fraud, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and falsifying official documents.

The couple also faces separate charges of treason, which could carry a life sentence.

Both Arif and Leyla are seriously ill. Leyla suffer from diabetes and hepatitis C. Arif has a heart condition and has suffered two strokes.

Turan News Agency

reported that during the sentencing, Arif was nearly unconscious. He was lying with his head on his wife’s knees. She also leaned toward him and supported his head.


reported that at the beginning of the proceedings, Arif Yunus collapsed after telling the court to “call the executioners and read out the verdict.” Arif has been barely able to sit up and has had to receive medical care, including injections, since the beginning.

The trial started on July 27, with minimal access to independent media reporters and activists into the courtroom. At the start of the trial, images that leaked into the media portrayed a drastically different-looking Leyla Yunus, frail, visibly ailing and grey-haired.

“You have issued a death sentence for us,” Leyla Yunus told the court after the prosecutor asked the judge for lengthy jail terms, according to


. “Neither mine nor Arif’s health will let us stay in jail for a long time.”

“Azerbaijan continues on the path of Soviet fascism,” she told the court. “Today in Azerbaijan, anyone who tries to challenge the dictatorship is faced with repression.”

Leyla and Arif Yunus were reportedly subjected to beatings in prison.

“The health of Leyla and Arif is terrifying. The talk is about  the destruction of human dignity,”


 National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF) Chairman

Jamil Hasanli

back in July. “Women in prison said that she was subjected to beatings by guards, which led to loss of vision in one eye, and other acts of torture.  It is not just a violation of the Constitution, but loss of humanity.”

In her


from prison, Leyla Yunus wrote that Arif suffers from stage 3 arterial hypertension, and has a tumor on hit head.

International outcry

The sentencing touched off a range of international reactions, from governments and human rights groups alike.



released by US Department of State Spokesperson John Kirby on August 13 read the following:

The United States is deeply troubled by today’s decision of an Azerbaijani court to sentence human rights and peace advocates Leyla and Arif Yunus, who have been detained for more than a year, to eight-and-a-half and seven-year prison terms, respectively. The charges appear to be solely connected with their human rights work and participation in constructive people-to-people programs aiming to ease tensions and build confidence in the region. We are further troubled by reports of irregularities during the judicial process. We are particularly concerned about their health, and we urge the authorities to release them immediately on compassionate grounds. It is in Azerbaijan’s interest to meet its international commitments to uphold the universal rights of all its citizens, a critical step toward achieving a bright, prosperous, and stable future.

In the same vein, UK Minister for Europe

David Lidington

said: “I am deeply troubled by the sentencing handed down to Leyla and Arif Yunus. A number of aspects of the conduct of the trial reinforced the impression that the verdict was politically motivated. These included restrictions on diplomats and other observers accessing the court room. The apparent deterioration of Leyla and Arif’s health during the past year in pre-trial detention is also particularly worrying.”

Human Rights Watch

called on the Azerbaijani government to “immediately move to set aside the convictions, drop all outstanding charges, and release the elderly, ailing couple.”

“The fact that the verdicts against Leyla and Arif Yunus were totally predictable does not make them any less a travesty,” said

Rachel Denber

, HRW deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Yunuses never should have been arrested, let alone imprisoned and prosecuted. The Azerbaijani authorities should now do the right thing, have the convictions and sentences set aside, and turn a page on the appalling crackdown against human rights defenders, of which the Yunuses are victims.”

Meydan TV obtained a copy of Transparency International’s statement, condemning the sentencing.

“Leyla and Arif Yunus must be freed. Transparency International condemns the courts for pursuing what is clearly a politically motivated legal action. Leyla and Arif are unwell and have been badly treated in prison. They must be set free immediately, not least so they can receive urgent medical care,” Anne Koch, regional director for Europe and Central Asia at Transparency International.

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