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2023, 30 Mart, Cümə axşamı, Bakı vaxtı 12:29

Dinara Yunus, "Mom And Dad Are Being Deliberately Punished For Their Human Rights Work" Interview (Updated)

Azerbaijan -- Arif, Leyla and Dinara Yunus during the International Theodor Hacker award ceremony
August 8

Following the prosecutor's request to sentence prominent human rights defender Leyla Yunus 59, to 11 years and her husband, historian Arif Yunus 60, to 9 years in jail, the couple's daughter, Dinara Yunus talked to Azadliq Radiosu.

Azadliq Radiosu: Dinara, you said in our eralier interview you had little expectation from your parents' trial. Were you surprised by the prosecutor's demand? Were you expecting such long sentence?

Most likely next week, the court will sentence my innocent parents to death in prison.

Dinara Yunus: I am terrified… Prosecutor is basically requesting death sentence for my parents.

During the hearings, prosecutor’s office failed to present any evidence, because there is none and there cannot be any evidence to prove the "guilt” of my parents. The case is fully falsified.

Most likely next week, the court will sentence my innocent parents to death in prison.

Already after one year of their detention, both of my parents’ health deteriorated dramatically… What will happen in another year especially as both suffer from serious medical conditions?

My dad fainted during one hearing last week, he had to lie down on a wooden bench inside the glass cage on my mom’s lap, because the judge ordered to proceed with the hearing. He was going through physical pain- tortures during the hearing and yet he was never taken to a hospital!

Monday’s hearing unless there will be another one could be the last meeting of my parents, their last hugs (if they are allowed), their last words to each other.

All their life… my parents dedicated to human rights, and now… now they are deliberately punished for their human rights work.

I am horrified…

August 4

Leyla Yunus 59, and her husband Arif Yunus, 60 were arrested one-week apart last year. Arif Yunus was charged with treason and fraud July 30, 2014, the same day his wife Leyla was arrested and charged with treason, tax evasion, fraud, illegal entrepreneurship and falsifying official documents. But as Leyla Yunus was sent to three-month pretrial custody, Arif was released under house arrest due to his poor health.

A week later, as Arif Yunus was on his way to visit his wife and take her food parcels, he was accused by the prosecutor’s office of violating the terms of his house arrest. Shortly after, the Nasimi District court reviewed the remand and sentenced Arif Yunus to three-month in pretrial detention as well.

Since their arrest their pretrial custody was extended over the course of one year despite international and domestic calls for their immediate release.

On July 27, 2015, the couple went on what many observers call a “show trial”.

Azadliq Radiosu spoke to the couple’s daughter Dinara Yunus who has been actively advocating on behalf of her parents since their arrest and her expectations on the trial.

“Last summer, my two dearest people were cruelly separated from each other, and thrown behind the bars on bogus charges. It was a terrible year! I heard of physical attacks against my mom by her aggressive inmates and by prison major. I kept receiving worrying news of my mom’s rapidly deteriorating health condition. Sadly, I heard very little if not complete silence from my dad. It was as if my dad was buried alive.”

Azadliq Radiosu: The hearings finally began in the case of your parents. What is your personal expectation – do you think they will actually be released or the sentence is imminent?

Dinara Yunus: After almost a year in detention, my parents 'circus trial' finally started. Today [July 30] marks a year since my mom’s politically motivated arrest. In few days it will be a year for my dad as well [August 5].

Honestly, I don’t expect much from the court. Already we have observed a lot of violations. This is supposed to be an open door court, but what we have seen so far is that many journalists, international diplomats, and activists are denied entry. The open door trial has in fact turned into an almost closed-door hearing.

I also know, there won’t be a fair trial, as the whole case is based on falsifications. I want to believe in justice, but there won’t be one, and my parents won’t walk out the courtroom free. If there were free and fair judiciary and an independent trial, my parents already were in freedom.

I could have hugged them then...

I still remember that horrifying moment when I found out about my mom's arrest through Internet, last year, today, July 30, 2014 and how I tried to reach my dad through phone...

After almost a year in detention, my mom finally received treatment against Hepatitis C, which she has been suffering from and for which she has not received any treatment up until now but she is now incurring side effects. Mom is also suffering from diabetes. And she can hardly see with her left eye as a result of deteriorating health and the rough prison condition.

Stonewalls cannot treat you, they cannot heel you, and the ugly separation from your beloved ones, only increases emotional pain and stress that in turn triggers more problems with health. And when you add to this, devastating conditions in prison and untreated illness – well, the picture is quite clear. You all saw how mom looked at the trial.

I was very shocked myself to see her in the video, recorded on July 15. She could barely walk, and required assistance but there was no one to support her - even though she was surrounded by many policemen- and dad was in handcuffs.

Finally I saw my dad too.

After a year of silence, during the hearing it was revealed that my dad has something on the back of his head that could also be a sign of cancer. He is already suffering from high blood pressure, which resulted in two strokes before his arrest. He has never been completely cured. No independent doctor has ever visited my dad. The x-ray of his head was not made. They wont let anyone visit him.

The inmates also beat him during the first days of his arrest.

When was the last time you had a chance to speak to your parents?

It was almost a year ago that I spoke to dad. Recently I came across our last text messages that we exchanged on August 4th. I sent him a smiley and wrote that I love him. He replied that he loves me too. The very next day the preventive measures against him were changed, and he was taken under custody without any reasoning.

Since August 5, 2014 I have not heard anything from my dad.

I learned that he was transferred on August 7, 2014 to the administrative detention facility under the Ministry of National Security.

If he ever gets a chance to read this interview, I want him to know that I love him and mom, and miss them lots.

The last time I spoke to my mom, was also last year, July 29, 2014. Since her arrest, I have had no direct contact with her, but throughout all this time, there was always more information about mom, than my dad. I still remember that horrifying moment when I found out about my mom's arrest through Internet, last year, today, July 30, 2014 and how I tried to reach my dad through phone...

You have been engaged in a lot of advocacy on behalf of your parents. Do you see any hope? Where do you travel the most and what is the reaction? Do you expect European leaders can actually have an impact the process?

I will never stop advocating for my dearest parents’ release. Since their arrest, I have dedicated all my time to it. Mom and dad are being deliberately punished for their human rights work. In fact, the lifelong human rights work of my parents' is even older than I am.

I am very proud of them, their work and I am blessed to have such great parents.

Yes, I have travelled a lot since their arrest, participating at different events

Hope is all I have, but it is fading each day. I am so afraid that I will never see them again, that we might never enjoy each others company as a whole family again…

organized by the human rights organizations. As you know my parents are prominent human rights defenders and recipients of a number of prestigious awards. Mom is the Knight of French Legion of Honor, and other international human rights awards. So often I have been attending meetings and evens in Strasburg and Brussels.

Hope is all I have, but it is fading each day. I am so afraid that I will never see them again, that we might never enjoy each others company as a whole family again…

European Leaders, and European institutions indeed can make a difference, if they become more vocal and demand my parent’s release in their calls. As well as calling for the release of other political prisoners too.

If I try going back, anything could happen to me, including arrest.

Have you considered traveling to Azerbaijan and visiting them in person?

I wish I was there to see them, to support them with my presence. But that is not safe.

Back in 2009, my parents were threatened and told that if they don’t stop their human rights work, something could happen to me. This was the hardest decision in our family– I had to leave the country and find a new home in the Netherlands.

Imagine, how hard it was for my parents to be separated from their only child like this. They knew and understood, that I will never be able to come back and visit them.

If I try going back, anything could happen to me, including arrest.

Aliyev has not budged despite the international calls to release not only your parents but also all other political prisoners. What’s next for you personally in your advocacy campaign?

As I said already I will never stop advocating for my parents’ freedom. I will continue doing what I have done up until now, and at the same time look for new possibilities to raise my parents’ case.

But all I wish for now is that I could see them today here with me.