Authorities in Azerbaijan have detained the country’s most prominent human rights activist, Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus on April, 28.
According to witnesses, the couple was at Baku’s Heydar Aliyev International airport on the way to Doha when they were stopped by four security agents and taken for questioning.
Mehman Aliyev, who was seeing them off, told RFE/RL that Leyla Yunus was stopped at the border and told that she can’t leave the country.
Yunus, an internationally recognized activist, told RFE/RL from the airport by telephone that airport security agents and investigators were searching her luggage and that the procedure was being filmed. Agents told her that they would search her apartment and office, and that she may not leave the country.
She said her lawyer, Khalid Bagirov, came to the airport, but is not being allowed to see her.
Bagirov told RFE/RL that she is most likely being detained in connection with the recent arrest of journalist, Rauf Mirkadirov.
Mirkadirov was extradited from Turkey and arrested on his arrival to Baku on April 20. He is facing charges of spying for Armenia.
Yunus told RFE/RL early last week that she believed her arrest was imminent.
” For many years they were trying to arrest me. They destroyed my house when I tried to sue the Minister of Interior, Ramil Usubov. Now they arrest anyone they want. It would be funny to arrest me with drug charges. So, they will do it for treason, since these cases are considered behind closed doors. And they will say on state TV that I was working for the Armenians for the last 30 years. The plan is to arrest many human rights activists as a group of spies. The goal is to purge anyone who thinks differently. They don’t want anyone who can speak about political prisoners.”
Yunis, 58, is the founder and director of the Peace and Democracy Institute, a Baku-based NGO. She was actively involved for many years in people-to-people diplomacy with Armenian counterparts. In August 2011, her office was demolished by bulldozers after she protested the forced eviction of hundreds of families to make way for the construction of a new park honoring former Azeri president Heydar Aliyev.
In 2013 she was awarded the French Legion award for her human rights work, and Germany’s Theodor Haecker Prize for international rights advocacy.
Among her many activities, Yunus is known for compiling the names of Azerbaijan’s political prisoners and advocating on their behalf.
The arrest comes only weeks before Azerbaijan is expected to take over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, a European human rights monitoring body, in May.