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Azerbaijani Rights Activist Yunus 'Deprived Of Lawyer'

Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus
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.

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