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Azerbaijan: Court Orders Return of Human Rights Defenders
In response to a court in Azerbaijan ordering human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus to return to that country, and the likely issuance of an international arrest warrant against them, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The court decision is another politically-motivated effort by the government of Azerbaijan to limit the work of Azerbaijan’s human rights defenders,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Eurasia programs. “Interpol should not be used as a weapon by authoritarian regimes, as would be the case with this attempt to detain the Yunuses and forcibly return them to Azerbaijan for another round of farcical trials.”
On May 17, 2017, the Baku Court of Appeals ordered that human rights defenders and former political prisoners Arif and Leyla Yunus be returned to Azerbaijan for new hearings in an ongoing court case. Leyla and Arif Yunus were arrested in 2014 and then tried and found guilty of treason and tax evasion, and sentenced in 2015 to eight and a half and seven years in prison, respectively. Both suffer from serious health problems that worsened due to reported mistreatment and denial of care in prison. Following international outcry, the two were released on a suspended sentence in December 2015 and then, in April 2016, allowed to seek medical treatment in Europe, where they have remained.
Azerbaijan is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2017, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2017, and Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2016, and receives a democracy score of 6.93, on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the worst possible score, in Nations in Transit 2017.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.