The Baku Court of Appeals released Leyla Yunus on December 9 on five years’ parole due to deteriorating health. Looking pale and infirm, Yunus walked leaning on her husband Arif as she exited from the courtroom from the back door.
“It is said in
that a human life is made of prison dust. They turned me into prison dust,” Yunus said in her final statement in court. Her microphone was immediately turned off.
Leyla Yunus, 59, is the head of the unregistered Institute for Peace and Democracy. In 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 on Wednesday on humanitarian grounds. Her husband Arif was sentenced to 7 years in August on similar charges.
The appeals court overturned an earlier decision to confiscate an apartment registered under their daughters’ name, Dinara Yunus, and dropped charges related to document falsification.
Yunus suffers from diabetes and hepatitis C. She appeared frail beyond recognition and grey-haired after spending almost 18 months in prison. Both Leyla and Arif were reportedly subjected to beatings in jail.
Immediately after the release, Yunus paid a visit to her grandfather’s grave. “When Arif proposed me, I took him to my grandfather’s grave. So he proposed to me at my grandfather’s grave. And now again I visited my grandfather’s grave,” she told reporters.
Foreign governments hailed the move as a positive development. The
US State Department
released a statement, describing Leyla and Arif’s release as “a positive step.” The
issued a similar statement: “This is a welcome and positive humanitarian gesture which follows a similar decision on 12 November with regard to Dr Yunus’ husband, Mr Arif Yunus. The European Union hopes further steps will follow.”
But supporters demand nothing less than a full acquittal.
“I hope the government will decide to vacate the criminal convictions against her and Arif, that they can get the health care they desperately need, and that their family can have the space to overcome the crushing ordeal of the past year and half,”
, the Deputy Director of Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.