BAKU -- The launch of Azerbaijani lawyer Elcin Qambarov’s tell-all book about a prominent former client, human rights activist Leyla Yunus, has sparked accusations of backstabbing, betrayal, and impropriety.
During the December 8 unveiling of The Splendor And Misery Of Leyla Yunus, Qambarov's take on his time defending Yunus, the lawyer and a slate of speakers from parliament, along with other high-ranking state officials, took turns bashing the 62-year-old Yunus. They alleged that Yunus illegally funneled funds and called her a traitor who had been used as a "tool" against Azerbaijan by archenemy Armenia.
The accusations against Yunus, who lives with her husband in exile after being convicted in 2015 of economic crimes after a trial that the couple and international human rights groups denounced as a farce, have triggered a maelstrom over their treatment and place in the country’s history.
"She betrayed Azerbaijan," parliamentarian Sahib Aliyev said at the book launch in the capital, Baku. "She betrayed all human rights activists and put them at risk."
Chingiz Ganizade, another member of parliament who attended the event, accused Yunus of "receiving grants for conducting anti-Azerbaijani activity."
Leyla, her husband, Arif, and their unregistered Peace and Democracy Institute defended victims of human rights abuses, from unlawful arrests to forced evictions, and encouraged peace-building between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The two neighbors fought a bloody and still-unresolved war between 1988 and 1994 over Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The couple has also been investigated in Azerbaijan on charges of spying for Armenia. Leyla and Arif were detained in April 2014 and subsequently handed harsh prison terms of 8 1/2 and 7 years in prison, respectively, on charges of fraud, tax evasion, and illegal business activities. The charges have been widely decried as bogus.
Their trial sparked an international outcry, with rights groups branding it a travesty of justice and denouncing President Ilham Aliyev’s deepening campaign to muzzle dissent in the oil-rich Caucasus country. The United States singled out the Yunuses by name in a call for Baku to release them and other jailed dissidents, and EU lawmakers urged the freeing of all Azerbaijani political prisoners.
The couple was released on health grounds in late 2015 when their prison terms were replaced with suspended sentences. Both sustained permanent damage to their health as a result of the violence they endured in prison, they say. They were allowed to travel to the Netherlands in April 2016 to receive medical care and have lived there since.
Neither have commented publicly on the book, nor on the comments made at its launch, but many in the legal community have jumped to defend Leyla Yunus, accusing Qambarov of impropriety for revealing privileged information about a client.
"Elcin Qambarov should be expelled from the Bar Association as he has violated requirements of the Law on Lawyers and Lawyer Activities," lawyer Yalcin Imanov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. "But instead of this, we saw Qambarov appointed to its presidium. I'm astonished by this fact."
Another lawyer, Elcin Sadigov, accused Qambarov of violating Article 7 of the Law on Lawyers and Lawyer Activities "by revealing information his client confided in him."
For his part, Qambarov rejects the notion he has violated lawyers’ ethics, saying he wrote the book after his agreement with Yunus ended.
"I have no obligation to my client after a contract expires. Secondly, I’ve not disclosed any information concerning her private life. What I wrote is connected with social activity, her detention, and other issues. And it’s not me who launched this fight against Leyla Yunus. She herself started this. I had many, many troubles in defending her," he told RFE/RL in an interview.
"It’s my personal fight and this book is my response to her," he added. "She told everyone upon her release that Elcin Qambarov is the government’s man. Then why did she cling on me? Why did she hug and kiss me after she left prison?"