An Armenian civic activist has voiced serious concern over the fate of Leyla Yunus, a prominent Azerbaijani human rights campaigner imprisoned in Azerbaijan on dubious charges, following reports about her deteriorating health.
Laura Baghdasarian, who heads a research center at a Yerevan-based non-governmental organization, published on Thursday an open letter to her 58-year-old Azerbaijani colleague, with whom she had carried out joint media projects for nearly a decade, condemning her prosecution and urging her “not to die”.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyn.am), Baghdasarian said that she preferred not to speak out until now lest her support and sympathy aggravate the situation of Yunus and her equally well-known husband Arif.
The couple were arrested this summer on charges of high treason and espionage in favor of Armenia. The charges, strongly denied by the Yunuses, stem in large measure from Leyla’s cooperation with Armenian NGO leaders involved in peace initiatives with fellow activists from Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani authorities have branded those leaders, including Baghdasarian, Armenian intelligence agents.
Baghdasarian, who laughed off Baku’s claims about her earlier, said she thought that Yunus’s condition just could not get any worse now.
Earlier this week, Yunus’s lawyer, Elchin Qambarov, spoke of a drastic deterioration of her health. Qambarov told RFE/RL that a doctor who examined her in prison recently diagnosed her with an advanced liver disease and high blood-sugar level.
“There is no point in checking my anger anymore,” Baghdasarian wrote in her letter, expressing shock at Yunus’s recent statement that she might not live long enough to see the upcoming New Year holiday.
“Indeed, before the New Year she will be in a much worse condition,” Baghdasarian said. “I couldn’t but show my attitude towards this whole thing.”
Baghdasarian described Yunus’s ordeal as a “demonstrative punishment” by the Azerbaijani authorities of a human rights activist highly critical of them. “In the past people were burned at the stake and crowds gathered in the square to watch the execution, and everyone feared meeting the same fate. I think that now people in Azerbaijan have the same feeling when they see what is being done to this woman. It’s a kind of lesson for them,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am).
A number of international organizations have decried the imprisonment of the Yunuses as well as dozens of other Azerbaijani government critics. But according to Baghdasarian, the international community is not doing enough to hold Baku accountable. She, in particular, spoke critically about European bodies, claiming that they turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses in Azerbaijan and apply “different rules of the game” to the oil-rich country and its autocratic leadership.
The arrest of Leyla and Airf Yunus in late July and early August came amid an upsurge in deadly fighting along the Armenian-Azerbaijan Line of Contact around Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Baghdasarian, the harsh treatment of Azerbaijani civil society members who have worked with their Armenian counterparts to promote peace in the region could spell the end of longstanding efforts to facilitate people-to-people contacts in the Karabakh conflict zone.