Azerbaijani rights defender charged with high treason

AZERBAIJAN LEYLA YUNISAzerbaijani human rights defender Leyla Yunus has been charged with “high treason, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, forged documentation and fraud, reports Meydan TV. She has also been given three months of pre-trial detention, according to Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

Her husband Arif Yunus is reportedly facing two charges; state betrayal and fraud, Index on Censorship reports.

Yunus has been shouting truth to power in Azerbaijan for years, earning a reputation as the conscience of her country, RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson and Ilkin Mammadov report:

The authorities seem bent on playing hard ball in this case. A lengthy statement by the prosecutor’s office tries to connect the Yunuses with Armenia’s secret services and accuses them of providing detailed military information relating to the simmering dispute over Azerbaijan’s breakaway ethnic-Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The charges filed against the Yunus’s are outrageous,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD) and Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), co-chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Both Leyla and Arif are long-time supporters of people-to-people contact with Armenia, and the charge of espionage against them is absurd. We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to drop the charges and to stop the coordinated campaign aimed at the opposition, civil society and journalists in Azerbaijan who are peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.”

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention:

Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging them to:

i.Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov as well as of all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan; 

ii.      Immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Leyla Yunus from pre-trial detention and Mr. Yunusov from house arrest, since their detention is arbitrary as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;

iii.     Remove all travel restrictions placed upon Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov;

iv.     Put an end to any kind of harassment – including at the judicial and investigatory levels – against Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, her relatives and more generally against all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

v.       Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:

-Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;

-Article 5, which underscores the right of every individual to form, join, and participate in non-governmental organizations; and

-Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

vi.     Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Azerbaijan.


Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 19 Istiqlaliyyat St., Baku AZ1066, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 25, (+994) 412 92 28 68, E-mail:,

Mr. Zakir Garalov, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prosecutor’s Office, 7 Nigar Rafibeyli St., Baku, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 82, (+994) 12 492 26 63, E-mail:,

Mr. Eldar Mahmudov, Minister of National Security, Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Parliament Avenue 14, Baku AZ1006, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 493-76-22, E-mail:

Mr. Ramil Usubov, Minister of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijani Republic, Fax: (+994) 12 492 45 90

Mr. Elmar MammadyarovMinister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail:

Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, Inshaatchilar Prospekti, 1 Baku, Azerbaijan, e-mail:; Fax (+994) 12 430 09 81

H.E. Mr. Murad N. Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, Route des Fayards 237, CH-1290 Versoix, Switzerland, Fax: (+41) 22 901 18 44, E-mail:

Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels, Avenue Moliere 464, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: (+32) 2 345 91 85

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.

Egypt leaves democracy advocate in legal limbo

egypt ngo trial fhIn Egypt last month, three journalists were found guilty of doing their jobs and given seven- and 10-year jail terms. Apparently, little has changed, notes a prominent democracy assistance official.

A little more than a year earlier, I and 42 other employees of international human rights groups were similarly convicted at a Cairo trial that the U.S. and European governments have condemned as politically motivated,” says Sam LaHood, the director for the International Republican Institute in Egypt from 2010 to 2012 and currently a program officer with the organization.

“I was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor after being found guilty in absentia of a trumped-up felony,” he writes for the Washington Post:  

In my case, appointees held over from the regime of Hosni Mubarak used repressive laws to target our groups for providing democracy assistance, manipulating the bureaucratic machinery for their own ends. Many more of these officials, who constitute Egypt’s entrenched security apparatus and bureaucracy, or “deep state,” have since returned to power after being out in the cold during the truncated presidential term of Mohamed Morsi. This deep state, led by individuals at the Ministry of Interior, state security and other large bureaucratic entities, is intent on exerting control over civil society, politics and the media through intimidation and repression.


Pakistan: Resisting Extremism through Media

In some schools of Islam, the artistic portrayal of people and animals is often perceived as idolatrous, or at the very least offensive or sacrilegious. Following the 2001 destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban and the 2005 Danish Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon controversy, Pakistan is experiencing a new wave of restrictions on the production of visual arts.

This trend is part of a broader agenda by intolerant and extremist elements in Pakistan to limit freedom of expression and curtail cultural activities, including dance, music, and theater, that they believe offend Islam. Moreover, recent attacks on journalists by extremists not only serve to silence moderate voices but reinforce and propel a conservative ideology. The challenge now is to reclaim the power of images and to assert cartoons as a medium through which artists can convey messages across cultural and linguistic divides.

Resisting Extremism through Media: Claiming a Space for Political Cartoons in Pakistan : watch the discussion on YouTube, above, featuring:

Sabir Nazar (@sabirnazar), Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, National Endowment for Democracy;

with comments by

Brian Joseph (@NEDemocracy), National Endowment for Democracy;

moderated by

Mark Nelson (@CIMA_Media), Center for International Media Assistance.

Payá family launches new plebiscite initiative in Cuba


cubaPayá_&_Cepero_II_Aniversario_SMALL_02On the second anniversary of the death of Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, his daughter, Rosa María Payá, has announced that the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) he founded is preparing a campaign to demand a plebiscite on the island’s future, the Miami Herald reports:

Rosa Maria Payá said that the plebiscite, based on her father’s Varela Project, would include “one single question: Do you want to participate in free and multi-party elections?”

The Varela Project gathered more than 10,000 signatures on a petition seeking a new electoral law and demanding the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association, among other measures. The signatures were rejected by the legislative National Assembly in 2002 but later that year Payá won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience, the most prestigious prize awarded by the European Union.

His daughter told El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday that since the Varela Project remains alive, “it is not necessary to collect more signatures. More than double the number required already have been handed in, even though the National Assembly has not responded to the demand.

“But the Varela Project is a citizens’ effort. Our intention with this (new) campaign is to mobilize citizens to demand their rights,” she added. “There can be no transition in Cuba unless first there’s a recognition of civil rights, of freedom of expression, of freedom of association to carry out the change we want.”

HT: Babablu blog.

The future of Turkish democracy – in Europe

CagaptayTurkeyBookCoverHiResIn the past decade, Turkey has outperformed its neighbors, rising as a stable and wealthy nation, says Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. While all of their neighbors experienced economic meltdown, political instability, and some even war, the Turks have enjoyed a decade of unprecedented growth. Turkey is now in a prime position to become an even more important ally to the United States given its robust economy.

As I describe in my recent monograph, “The Rise of Turkey” the country has now become a majority middle-class society. This has yielded impressive results: Turkey is on the cusp of becoming the first large Muslim-majority society to attain universal literacy. Economic development has connected the Turkish people to the rest of the world in ways that cannot be reversed.

For these key accomplishments, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, deserve credit.

However, there is also a less bright side to the AKP’s legacy. Under the party, Turkey has become more prosperous, but ironically, at the same time, also less free. When the party took power in 2002, Turkey’s record on liberties, as measured by international indices, improved along with the country’s ambitious work to qualify for European Union accession. Later under the AKP, Turkey’s record on liberties stagnated, subsequently taking a nose dive.

Despite being elected through a democratic process, the AKP has governed in an authoritarian manner. The party has made a habit of quashing any opposition, most prominently during the 2013 Gezi Park rallies, where police used tear gas and water cannons on protestors. The recent Twitter and YouTube ban is the latest example of the AKP’s propensity for curbing basic freedoms.

A second alarming issue concerning the United States has been Turkey’s pivot to the Middle East, which has met serious challenges. Before the AKP, the Turks thought of themselves as a European country situated next to the Middle East. Toward the end of the last decade, Ankara decided that the path to greater power and influence was through the Middle East rather than Europe.

This has turned out to be a miscalculation. With the exception of the Kurds, Turkey currently has no allies in the Middle East. What is more, the country is flanked by enemies, ranging from the Assad regime to the “Islamic State” (IS), as well as brutal competitors such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

There are other reasons to be optimistic about Turkey’s future: the middle class, which has grown as a result of the AKP’s economic policies, is committed to individual freedoms and is now challenging the party’s style of governance.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is slowly but surely becoming a liberal movement. Recently, the State Department honored party deputy Safak Pavey with an International Women of Courage Award, recognizing the CHP’s commitment to gender equality and democratic values.

Turkey’s trajectory points toward democracy and makes its accession into the EU an attractive prospect. ..U.S. policy should encourage Turkish reorientation toward Europe. We stand at an opportune moment regarding such a pivot. The AKP’s drive to transform Turkey into a Middle Eastern power has failed, and the Turks feel burnt out from such efforts.

Failing to consolidate power in the Middle East, Ankara needs to re-embrace the EU and its democratic values. …………….Turkey is of vital interest to Europe, and in turn the United States. Its location and proclivity to capitalism and democracy make it an important ally. The developments facing Europe and the Middle East may have pushed Turkey from the forefront of the news, but it must not be forgotten. Washington and Ankara share interests, and Turkey’s path will have great strategic importance to the United States in situations ranging from Ukraine to Iraq and Syria for years to come.

Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. This extract is taken from his testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats.