Urgent Interventions

Court decision forbidding Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov to travel abroad to receive medical treatment


New information
AZE 002 / 0414 / OBS 031.13
Deterioration of health / Risk for the physicalintegrity /

March 18, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programmeof the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the InternationalFederation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requestsyour urgent intervention in the following situation in Azerbaijan.

New information:

The Observatoryhas been informed by reliable sources about a court decision forbidding Ms. Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institutefor Peace and Democracy (IPD) and a member of OMCT General Assembly, and herhusband Mr. Arif Yunusov, Head ofIPD Conflictology Department, to travel abroad to receive medical treatment.

According tothe information received, on March 11, 2016, the Court of Appeals in Baku ruledthat Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunus could not travel to Germany to receiveurgent medical treatment due to their suspended prison terms. On February 11,2016, the Yasamal District Court of Baku had already denied them permission totemporarily leave the country. The Yunus couple said that they would appeal thedecision.

Ms. LeylaYunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov were sentenced to 8,5 and 7 years of imprisonmentrespectively on August 13, 2015, following a procedure that grossly disregardedinternational standards of fair trial and due process (see backgroundinformation). On December 9, 2015,their sentence was commuted to a release on probation for five years.

Mr. Arif Yunusov suffers from hypertension, and Ms. LeylaYunus from hepatitis, diabetes, pancreatitis and gallstone disease, which wereaggravated after her arrest. Both are in urgent need of surgery and medicalcare. Their medical situation was confirmed by Dr. Christian Witt, from theBerlin clinic Charite, who visited the Yunus couple in jail while they were indetention and since their release, and confirmed the deterioration of theirhealth status. The Yunus couple could receive urgent and life-saving treatmentat the Berlin clinic Charite.

TheObservatory regrets the Court’s decision which puts at serious risk Ms. LeylaYunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov’s physical integrity, and calls upon the authoritiesof Azerbaijan to ensure they can receive urgently the medical care they needincluding medication and hospitalisation abroad as required.

TheObservatory further calls on the Azeri authorities to immediately andunconditionally put an end to the ongoing judicial harassment against Ms. LeylaYunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov, since it is only aimed at sanctioning theirlegitimate human rights activities.


Ms. Leyla Yunus has long fought for human rights and the rights of ethnicminorities in her country. She has been heading the IPD since 1995. In October2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was awarded the Polish Prize of Sérgio Vieira de Mello,and was among the three finalists for the Sakharov Prize. She also received thedistinction of “Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur” of theFrench Republic in 2013. She has worked on numerous projects relating to humanrights, political prisoners, corruption, human trafficking, gender-based issuesand violations of the right to property. With her husband, Ms. Yunus has alsoworked towards reconciliation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two countriesdivided by the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

On July 30,2014, Ms. Yunus was arrested by the Prosecutor’s office on charges of “treason”(Article 274 of the Criminal Code), “large-scale fraud” (Article 178.3.2),“forgery” (Article 320), “tax evasion” (Article 213), and “illegal business”(Article 192), and brought to the department of grave crimes of the GeneralProsecutor’s Office, where she underwent a six-hour questioning. Her husbandjoined her at the department of grave crimes of the General Prosecutor’sOffice, where he was also questioned. Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were bothformally charged, and placed in pre-trial detention. Mr. Yunusov was laterplaced under house arrest, and placed in detention again on August 5, forviolation of his conditional sentence.

On January 5, 2015 and February 2, 2015, the European Court of Human Rightscommunicated on two applications filed for violations of the rights of Ms.Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov.

On July 15, 2015, the trial opened in the Baku Grave Crimes Court. Duringtrial, Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were placed in a glass courtroom cage, withtheir Azeri to Russian interpreter sitting near the cage (both areRussian-speaking, and the hearings were held in Azeri). Local and internationalobservers were often denied access to the courtroom without explanation andhearings were held in the smallest room of the courthouse.

During the trial, the lawyers of Ms. Yunus regularly argued that continueddetention was life threatening to Ms. Yunus, highlighting that Ms. Yunus wassuffering from diabetes, hepatitis C, and a liver enlargement anddeterioration. The lawyer also denounced the poor conditions of detention ofhis client at the Investigative prison of the Ministry of National Security,where Mr. Arif Yunusov suffers from insomnia high blood pressure. Throughoutthe trial, all motions filed by the defence lawyers, including the request tosit next to his clients, were dismissed.

At the hearing of August 3, 2015, an ambulance was called in order to providefirst aid healthcare to Mr. Yunusov, who fainted due to a worryingly higharterial pressure. Mr. Yunus later regained consciousness but the doctor of theNational Security prison who was called to the court after the health incident,reportedly stated that Mr. Yunusov health condition did not allow him tofurther participate in the trial. However, the judge decided to adjourn thehearing to the next day, August 4, 2015.

On August 13, Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were convicted to 8.5 and 7 years injail respectively. Mr. Arif Yunusov fainted while making his final plea.

On October 12, 2015, the appeal trial of Ms. Leyla and Mr. Arif Yunusov openedbefore the Baku Court of Appeal. The hearing was suspended several times.International observers present reported that Ms. Yunus looked very weakand denounced being refused the medical treatment prescribed by the Germandoctor.

On October 20, the Baku Court of Appeal decided to refer the criminal caseagainst Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov back to the Baku Grave Crimes Court,following a complaint filed by their lawyer, highlighting inaccuracies in theminutes of the hearings of the trial before the lower court. On November 5,2015, the court considered this motion, but did not provide its conclusions tothe defence attorneys during the preliminary hearing held before the Baku Courtof Appeal.

During the hearing on November 5, all the motions filed by their lawyers weredismissed by the Presiding Judge Vugar Mammadov, including the motion to changethe measure of restraint from detention to house arrest considering inparticular their health condition and to partial re-examination of the case.Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov's lawyer was not allowed to meet anddiscuss with his clients before, during and after the hearing. During thehearing, several large bruises were visible on the neck of Leyla Yunus. BothArif and Leyla Yunus looked visibly exhausted and weak. Mr. Arif Yunus wasreportedly brought to the courtroom from the hospital. Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr.Arif Yunusov's lawyer announced that he would file a complaint regardingpotential acts of ill-treatment. Placed in a glass cage before the observerswere allowed to the courtroom, the two stayed silent during the whole hearing.

On November12, 2015, the Baku Grave Crimes Court approved the request to change themeasure of restraint against Mr. Arif Yunusov from detention to conditionalrelease, for the period of appeal. Under the terms of the decision, Mr. Yunusovcannot leave Baku. The decision was based on a medical reference provided bythe Head of the Department of Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice,stressing that the critical health situation of Mr. Yunusov had required histransfer from the Isolator of the Ministry of National Security to the MedicalEstablishment of the Ministry of Justice. The reference indicated that whiletransfer had allowed his situation to be normalised temporarily, it remainedproblematic to ensure stable blood pressure under the conditions ofimprisonment. The document reportedly also referred to the medical inspectionof German doctor Christian Witt, which had confirmed the deterioration of hishealth. The Baku Grave Crimes Court could review its decision in case of apositive change in the health of Mr. Yunusov.

During the November-12 hearing, the lawyers of the defendants indeed also askedthe court to consider a similar measure for Ms. Leyla Yunus given her criticalhealth condition, but the court did not even allow them to finalise theirrequest and interrupted them on the grounds that the abovementioned medicalreference referred only to Mr. Arif Yunusov. Speaking from the glass courtroomcage, Mr. Yunusov demanded the release of his wife based on her critical healthcondition.

OnDecember 9, 2015, Ms. Leyla Yunus was released after the BakuCourt of Appeal commuted the sentences against her and her husband to a releaseon probation for five years.

However,they both are still facing charges of treason in a separate judicial process.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging them to:

i. Ensurethat Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov can receive the medical care theyneed including urgent medication and hospitalisation abroad as required;

ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical andpsychological integrity of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, and all humanrights defenders in Azerbaijan;

iii. Putan end to any kind of harassment - including at the judicial level - againstMs. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, and more generally all human rightsdefenders in Azerbaijan;

iv. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on HumanRights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations onDecember 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1, 5, and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamentalfreedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and internationalinstruments ratified by Azerbaijan.


· Mr.Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail:,

· Mr.Zakir Garalov, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail:,

· Mr.Eldar Mahmudov, Minister of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan,E-mail:

· Mr.Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan,E-mail:

· Mr.Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, E-mail:

· H.E.Mr. Murad N. Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to theUnited Nations in Geneva, E-mail:

Please alsowrite to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respectivecountry as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.


Geneva-Paris,March 18, 2016

Kindlyinform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in yourreply.

TheObservatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of humanrights defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contactthe Observatory, call the emergency line:

· E-mail:

· Tel and fax OMCT +41 22 809 49 39 /+41 22 809 49 29

· Tel and fax FIDH +33 1 43 55 25 18 /+33 1 43 55 18 80

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts