Azerbaijan frees top rights activist Yunus on parole

A court in Azerbaijan on Wednesday ordered the country’s top rights campaigner Leyla Yunus to be released from prison, citing her deteriorating health, Agence France-Presse reports.

The judge at the appeals court in the capital Baku gave Yunus a suspended sentence of five years after throwing out the initial eight-and-a-half year jail term, an AFP reporter in the courtroom said.

Yunus, 59, suffers from a number of ailments including hepatitis C and diabetes.

The head of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, one of the leading rights groups in the tightly-controlled country, was jailed in August on charges that include fraud and tax evasion.

Her husband Arif Yunus, who was sentenced to seven years in prison on similar charges, was released in November also because of his poor health.

The Yunus couple and their supporters have rejected the charges as trumped-up and politically motivated.

Leyla Yunus complained in September that she had been severely beaten in custody by prison guards.

International rights groups have slammed the prosecution of the Yunus couple as an attempt by Azerbaijan’s iron-fisted authorities to prevent them from continuing their work.

Amnesty International had demanded the “immediate release” of the couple, describing them as “prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for their legitimate human rights work and criticism of the government”.

Arrested last year on suspicion of spying for arch-foe Armenia, the pair also face treason charges in a separate case.

Leyla Yunus has won several international awards for her work, and she has teamed up with Armenian activists to urge reconciliation between the two countries, locked in a decades-long conflict over Nagorno Karabakh.

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