Today’s transfer of ailing Azerbaijani rights defender Arif Yunus to house arrest is a rare piece of positive news on human rights in Azerbaijan. Of course, relief and joy at the news is tempered by the fact that Arif should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and the more than 15 months he spent in the Ministry of National Security facility with virtually no contact with the outside world have been a travesty of justice. So is the continued imprisonment of his wife Leyla Yunus, among the country’s most prominent human rights activists. Both suffer from serious, chronic health conditions and require urgent medical care.
Just last week, Arif was moved to the medical ward of the facility where he was being held, apparently for high blood pressure, which may well have led to today’s decision to allow him to go home. It also adds to the urgency of ensuring he receives the medical care he so clearly needs.
Leyla’s plight is no less pressing. Adding to longstanding concerns about her deteriorating health and prior credible allegations of ill-treatment, she appeared at an appeal hearing on November 5, 2015, with a large bruise on her neck and was too weak even to speak to her lawyer.
So let’s save the celebrations until Leyla is released, along with the other activists wrongfully imprisoned in Azerbaijan. They include: Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Khadija Ismayilova, Ilgar Mammadov, Anar Mammadli, Tofiq Yagublu, Rauf Mirgadirov – and the list goes on. All of their convictions should be vacated and they should be allowed to pursue their activism unhindered.
So, incomplete and inadequate as it is, Arif’s transfer from prison to house arrest should be seen as an important opening for Azerbaijan’s international partners to seize upon and prompt much-needed resolve to use every diplomatic tool available to sustain pressure on Baku until all these cases are resolved.