Today, August 13, Baku Court of Grave Crimes held its final hearing in the case of prominent rights defender Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus.
Leyla Yunus was sentenced to 8 years and 6 months, while Arif Yunus was sentenced to 7 years.
Following the sentence Azadliq Radiosu spoke to the lawyer Afgan Mammadov. He said he was hoping for acquittal from today's court. "Surely, we knew they will be jailed. This is why both Leyla and Arif were ready for jail. The final verdict was the same indictment, nothing changed" said Mammadov.
The couple was originally charged with fraud, illegal entepreneurship, tax evasion and forgery. In addition, there is a separate charge of treason as well.
Following the sentence the judge also announced the court decision to confiscate the couple's property and all of their savings in their bank accounts.
The couple consider their arrest and today's sentence politically motivated.
In her final statement Leyla Yunus thanked her lawyers for their endless effort to help the couple. She criticized the trial and said "Azerbaijan continues on the path of Soviet fascism. "Today in Azerbaijan, anyone who tries to challenge the dictatorship is faced with repression".
Yunus, also said she was not surprised with the lenghty sentence requested by the prosecutor. "This government is afraid of a word. This trial showed that all of you are afraid of words. This is why you chose to hold this trial behind closed doors, not letting any journalists to come in and do their reporting. You have issued a death sentence for us. Because neither mine, nor Arif's health will let stay in jail for a long time".
When the judge asked whether she was finished, Leyla Yunus said "Yes executioner, we are done, you can carry on your duty".
Arif Yunus exhausted due to poor health condition said he would do nothing different if he was young again and taht he would marry Leyla once again.
He thanked the diplomats of various embassies who attended the trial.
"Your names will go down the history. But so will ours. I do not regret anything. The most important thing is that a human lives his life with dignity. This is our land, and we must die here" said Arif Yunus.
In his final words he said, "Call the executioners and read out the verdict" after which he collapsed on the bench.
Dinara Yunus, the couple's daughter said, "My parents were sentenced to death today, at their last meeting, mom to 8.5 years and dad to 7 years".
Tanya Lokshina, Senior Researcher for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, who was among the international observers at the trial said in an interview outside the court house, "This is not about taxes, this is not about grand regulations and foreign funding regulations. It is about people being punished, people being destroyed. People who are in fact so frail and in such poor state of health, that they may not survive the sentence. To think of it, they were found guilty on all charges, on all accounts - Leyla received 8 years imrisonment, Arif received 7.5 years [the actual sentence is 8.5 in the case of Leyla Yunus and 7 years in the case of Arif Yunus]- when you look at them, at the physical state of them, in that court room you cannot help but think. This is not even a life sentence. This is a death sentence for them. They cannot survive this imprisonment".
The statement issued by the Human Rights House Network condemn the court's decision and said today's sentence is "an example of the criminalisation of lawful activities to promote human rights", finding the verdict "simply appalling".
Another international organization Freedon Now also condemned today's sentencing adding, "the charges brought against the couple were clearly politically motivated and we call for their immediate release".
“Today’s sentencing of Leyla and Arif Yunus is shocking and frankly shameful,” said Freedom Now’s Executive Director Maran Turner. “Leyla and Arif are peaceful activists who dedicated their lives to defending human rights and promoting reconciliation between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Given the condition of their health and the quality of medical care they have received, the court’s decision is equivalent to a death sentence.”
Amnesty International called charges "absurd" calling on the government of Azerbaijan to "quash these convictions" and release the couple immediately.
Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of Europe tweeted:
Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe Nils Muiznieks shared the following tweet: