Thursday, October 30, 2014

Azerbaijani Rights Activist Yunus 'Deprived Of Lawyer'

Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

Jailed Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus says she has been deprived of her lawyer.

In a letter dated October 29 and sent from the pretrial detention facility in Baku where she is being held, Yunus wrote that her lawyer Cavad Cavadov has been barred from representing her in court.

"This happens right after the meeting in Paris between the French and Azerbaijani presidents, at which Francois Hollande raised concerns regarding my case," Yunus wrote.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met Hollande in Paris on October 27. 

Yunus's daughter, Dinara Yunusova, who lives in Europe, said last week that she had urged Hollande to ask Aliyev to free her parents.

Azerbaijani officials have not commented on the status of Yunus's lawyer.

But Cavadov wrote on Facebook that police had questioned him as a witness in the case against her on October 29. 

Yunus, 58, is a fierce critic of Azerbaijan's poor rights record who has sought to expose official corruption and advocated for a range of causes, including the rights of people deprived of their homes by the state. 

Her unregistered Peace and Democracy Institute in Baku has been actively involved in people-to-people diplomacy with rights activists in neighboring Armenia, which has been locked in a conflict with Azerbaijan for more than two decades over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.  

Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus, 59, were arrested in July and August, respectively, and charged with high treason, spying for Armenia, illegal business activities, document forgery, and fraud.  

The couple says the charges are politically motivated.

Western governments and human rights groups have called for their immediate release. 

Two weeks ago, the U.S. State Department urged Azerbaijan to release people detained for exercising fundamental rights, starting with those with serious medical conditions, including Yunus and her husband.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at the time that Yunus was not receiving medical attention despite her deteriorating health.

Yunus was shortlisted for this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition announced on October 24 that it had nominated her for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.

The same day, Baku's Nasimi District Court extended Yunus's pretrial detention until February 28.

Aliyev has tolerated little dissent since he succeeded his long-ruling father as president of the energy-producing Caspian Sea state in 2003.

Western states have criticized his government over its record on human rights and basic freedoms but have cultivated close ties with Azerbaijan, which is strategically located between Russia and Iran and plays a role in efforts to decrease Europe's reliance on Russian gas.

Iran Moves To Muzzle Media Coverage Of Acid Attacks

An Iranian woman, hiding her face so as not to be identified, raises a placard during a protest to show solidarity with the acid-attack victims, in front of the judiciary building in Isfahan on October 22.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian officials are moving to muzzle media coverage of a string of recent acid attacks targeting young women in the central city of Isfahan.

The attacks have sparked outrage and fear among many Iranians who last week took to the streets of Isfahan and Tehran to protest and call for government action. 

Seven or eight women in Isfahan have had liquid acid thrown on them by men on motorcycles, according to Iran’s police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam. The attacks have left some of the victims badly burned, disfigured, and blind.
In recent days, several Iranian officials have warned the media over their coverage of the crimes, accusing them of fomenting public discord and promoting the "views of the enemy."
Hard-liners are irked over reports linking the attacks to religious zealots who enforce Islamic norms in the country, including the Islamic hijab that became obligatory for women following the 1979 revolution. 

They have also said that the attacks should not be linked to draft legislation that would offer protections for vigilantes, and have criticized the media for suggesting that women were targeted for not being sufficiently veiled. 

The heads of Iran's powerful judiciary, Ayatollah Sadedgh Amoli Larijani, said on October 26 that some media had committed an "injustice" against authorities by connecting the acid attacks to the enforcement of Islamic norms.

"Why should you pollute the atmosphere while a bill about the promotion of [Islamic] virtues and prevention of vice is [being discussed] in the parliament?" he asked.

"If Westerners provoke such an atmosphere, it's because of their nature: They are anti-revolutionaries," Larijani added. "But I'm sorry for some media that connected the attacks to the promotion of [Islamic] virtues."

A day earlier, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi was quoted as saying that numerous media outlets had received warnings and that legal action could be taken against them.

'Badly Veiled'

Lawmaker Hasan Kamran said Iran’s Press Supervisory Board will look into the coverage of acid attacks by media that he says linked the attacks to hijabs worn loosely by women and those who promote Islamic norms. 

Kamran, who is a member of the board, said associating the acid attacks with the issue of "badly veiled" women is against Iran's national interests.  

"These media outlets are sick. They make headlines out of false reports to make our enemies happy," Kamran was quoted as saying by the hard-line Tasnim news agency.

The attacks have nothing to do with improper veiling, Kamran said, adding that one of the victims is from a "very respectable" family of war veterans. 

Iranian opposition websites have reported that Arya Jafari, a photographer who covered an October 24 protest in Isfahan against the acid attacks, was arrested.

Jafari's photographs of the large gathering were published by the semiofficial news agency ISNA, as well as by Western news agencies. They were also widely shared on social media.

Two days after the protest, authorities arrested women's rights activist Mahdieh Golrou, who took part in an October 24 demonstration in Tehran. Activists said that at least two other female participants in the Tehran gathering in front of the parliament had received threatening phone calls over their actions.

Scrapping the bill that provides protections for religious zealots was among the demands of protesters both in Tehran and Isfahan.

Some Iranians officials have described the acid attacks as "suspicious" and suggested that foreign intelligence services could be behind them.

Authorities have said that the perpetrators of the attacks should be severely punished.

Uzbek Student's Relatives Seek Justice Over Cotton Harvest Death

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

Relatives of an Uzbek university student who died at a compulsory cotton picking site have filed a lawsuit with the regional prosecutor's office.

Shamsiddin Bobosaidov's relatives say the 19-year-old was beaten to death by older students who were trying to force him to work in their stead.

Bobosaidov died on October 2 in the eastern Syrdarya Province.

His death was one of at least 19 reported during the cotton-picking campaign this year in Uzbekistan, where many students and state employees are forced to help bring in the harvest.

Officials in the provincial capital, Guliston, told RFE/RL that the prosecutor’s office had officially registered the request by his relatives on October 20.

Prosecutors rarely accept complaints related to deaths or other incidents during the cotton harvest.

Uzbek authorities have been criticized for forcing citizens to work against their will in the cotton fields.


UN High Commissioner For Human Rights Lambastes Kyrgyz Antigay Law


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on the Kyrgyz government "to refrain from passing draft legislation" against sexual minorities.

The statement that was issued on October 24 said that the draft legislation would "violate fundamental human rights, including the rights to liberty, security and physical integrity and to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association."

Last week, Kyrgyzstan's parliament approved in the first reading a draft law that envisages a punishment to up to one year in jail for "propaganda of same-sex relations."

It says journalists found guilty of "propagating" homosexual relations will be held accountable, too.

The bill bans the creation of groups that defend the rights of sexual minorities.

The law has to pass the parliament's approval in two more readings and then be signed by the president in order to come into force.

Pretrial Detention Of Prominent Azerbaijani Rights Defender Extended

Leyla Yunus

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

The pretrial detention of prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus has been extended.

Yunus's lawyer, Elcin Qanbarov, told RFE/RL that Baku's Nasimi District Court had ruled on October 24 that Yunus must stay in pretrial detention until February 28.

Yunus, 57, is a fierce critic of Azerbaijan's poor rights record. She and her husband, Arif Yunus, 59, were arrested in July and August and charged with high treason, spying for Armenia, illegal business activities, documents forgery, and fraud.

The couple insists the charges are politically motivated.

Human rights organizations have demanded that Azerbaijani authorities immediately release the couple.

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition announced on October 24 that it had nominated Yunus for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.

She was a finalist for the recent Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.


Amnesty Urges Uzbekistan To Free 'Prisoner Of Conscience'

Dilorom Abdukadirova


Amnesty International says nearly 200,000 people have signed a petition calling on Uzbek President Islam Karimov to immediately release a woman it calls a “prisoner of conscience.”

The signatures in support of 49-year-old Dilorom Abdukadirova were collected in 123 countries as part of the organization’s “Stop Torture” campaign, Amnesty International U.K. said in an October 20 statement.

Amnesty describes Abdukadirova as a vegetable seller and "prisoner of conscience" serving an 18-year prison sentence for participating in a protest for better economic conditions in the Central Asian nation.

She originally fled the country in 2005 after Uzbek forces fired on protesters in the town of Andijon, killing hundreds of people, according to witnesses, but was arrested in 2010 after returning to reunite with her family, Amnesty says.

Russian Activist Bogatenkova Released From Custody

An undated screen grab from an earlier Dozhd TV report on Lyudmila Bogatenkova, of the Russian Soldiers' Mothers Committee in Stavropol

Seventy-three-year-old Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Bogatenkova has been released from detention after two nights in jail in southern Russia, according to her lawyer.

Bogatenkova, chairwoman of the Budyonnovsk branch of the Soldiers Mothers Committee human-rights NGO, was released from custody in Stavropol on October 20 after signing a statement that she would not leave the country, the lawyer told journalists.

Bogatenkova faces charges of fraud stemming from four-year-old allegations of financial wrongdoing.

The chairman of Russia's presidential rights council, Mikhail Fedotov, said he is personally monitoring Bogatenkova's case.

Rights council member Sergei Krivenko told Interfax that Bogatenkova clearly presents no threat to society and that taking her into custody "looks like revenge for her human-rights activity."

In August, Bogatenkova handed over to the presidential rights council documentation connected with the alleged deaths of dozens of Russian soldiers near a military training camp in the Rostov region, near Russia's border with the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.

The Soldiers' Mothers network has publicly alleged that Russian soldiers have died or been wounded in Ukraine and that thousands have served there during the past six months or so.

Based on reporting by Dozhd TV and Interfax

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