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Daughter Of Jailed Azeri Activists Fears They'll ‘Die Behind Bars’

  • RFE/RL

Arif (left to right), Leyla, and Dinara Yunus attend a human rights award ceremony. (undated)

Arif (left to right), Leyla, and Dinara Yunus attend a human rights award ceremony. (undated)

WASHINGTON -- The daughter of two Azerbaijani human rights activists serving prison terms on charges widely denounced as a travesty says she fears her parents will die behind bars.

Dinara Yunus, the daughter of activists Leyla and Arif Yunus, told an October 28 briefing in Washington that she felt "very hopeless" for the lives of her parents, saying both were suffering from failing health.

"Their life is very fragile. And it needs to be saved now. Because there's no safety. There is no security. They are constantly under physical and psychological pressure. And even psychological pressure is harsher than physical pressure," Dinara Yunus said.

The briefing was held on Capitol Hill by the U.S. Senate Human Rights Caucus, which was launched last year to raise awareness about global human rights abuses.

Both of the Yunuses are critical of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s government and have been accused of treason as well as economic crimes over aspects of their work.

A Baku court in August sentenced Leyla Yunus to 8 1/2 years in prisoner and her severely ailing husband seven years after judging them guilty of economic crimes.

The couple denies guilt and calls all charges against them politically motivated. Foreign governments and international rights groups have also condemned their convictions.

Speaking prior to the verdict, Leyla Yunus told the court that a jail sentence would be a "death sentence" for the couple due to their ill health.

Their daughter, who currently lives in self-exile in the Netherlands due to purported threats to her safety in Azerbaijan, told the October 28 hearing in Washington that she fears she will never see her parents again.

"I'm afraid they're going to just die behind bars, and I will never have a chance to see them, and I will never have a chance to say goodbye to them even, or go to their funerals," Dinara Yunus told the briefing. "And I don’t want that. They deserve life, because they protected so many lives."

During the couple's trial, which began in July, Arif was been barely able to sit up and had to receive medical care, including injections.

The court refused repeated requests by the defense to release him to house arrest to receive treatment. He has been diagnosed with a heart condition and has suffered two strokes over the past two years.

Dinara Yunus says her mother suffers from diabetes.

The Yunuses are among several activists, journalists, and government critics currently imprisoned in Azerbaijan, where rights groups say Aliyev has assiduously pursued a campaign to silence dissent.

The government has repeatedly rejected accusations that it is targeting its critics for their political activism.

With its significant oil and gas wealth and a moderate Muslim society, Azerbaijan has long been a strategic partner of the United States, cooperating with Washington on security and energy matters.

But Richard Kauzlarich, a former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan under the Clinton administration, told the briefing in Washington that "strategic partners must have shared values."

He said the Yunuses were his friends during his time in Baku and that they are "good people" who "have no business suffering what they have and existing under the conditions that they are."

Azerbaijani officials "who are responsible for this should face financial, travel sanctions at a minimum," Kauzlarich added.

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