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Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus

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.

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.

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.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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