Christoph Strässer, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement on 14 August on the sentencing of Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov in Azerbaijan:
I am shocked by the disproportionately harsh sentences handed down to Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov, both of whom I know personally as important human rights defenders and prominent members of Azerbaijani civil society who campaign tirelessly for conciliation and dialogue. I also take a critical view of the prison sentences of eight-and‑a‑half and seven years, as it is known that both of the convicted are in poor health.
The Azerbaijani Government must finally cease its crackdown against prominent members of civil society. At the very least, Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov must be granted a fair appeal, as independent observers report that their trials were marred by considerable procedural irregularities. All imprisoned members of Azerbaijani civil society must be allowed a fair trial and the medical care they need in detention.
The German Government will continue to lobby the Azerbaijani Government for the release of Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunusov and other imprisoned members of Azerbaijani civil society.
Along with other prominent human rights activists, Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunusov were arrested at the end of July 2014 on charges of espionage, tax evasion and infringements of the country’s legislation on NGOs. On 13 August 2015, they were sentenced to eight-and‑a‑half and seven years in prison respectively by a trial court in Baku.
Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, and her husband Arif Yunusov have campaigned with great commitment for improved human rights, more democracy and an enhanced dialogue, both internally and with regard to Armenia.