Statement by Senator Patrick Leahy On The Detention of Human Rights Defenders in Azerbaijan

Mr. President, last year I expressed my grave concern about the Government of Azerbaijan’s harassment and imprisonment of human rights defenders, journalists, and other civil society activists.  Since then, the state of human rights in Azerbaijan has further deteriorated amid condemnation from President Obama and officials of other governments, as well as the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  I, too, wish to reiterate my dismay at the mistreatment of these brave individuals, and call for the release of all political prisoners in Azerbaijan, including Leyla and Arif Yunus.

Imprisoned and denied access to justice for over a year, Leyla and Arif Yunus are examples of the many activists and critics of the government who President Ilham Aliyev seeks to silence.  Their arrest last year coincided with the release of their report on politically motivated detentions, and since then their health has reportedly suffered significantly.  Recently they were sentenced to eight and a half and seven years in prison, respectively, and face further prosecution.

Leyla and Arif Yunus, and all other political prisoners in Azerbaijan including journalist Khadija Ismayilova who on September 1st was sentenced to seven and a half years, should be freed immediately.  In addition, and in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights to which it is party, the Government of Azerbaijan, which recently chaired the Council of Europe, should uphold the provisions of its own Constitution and end the persecution of civil society members, journalists, and political activists who are guilty of nothing more than peaceful expression.  

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