Central and Eastern Europe


Opinion peace sent in by Arif Yunus, Institute for Peace and Democracy, the Netherlands

On October 24-25, in Dublin, Ireland, on the initiative of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, a round table was held on the topic “Human Rights Defenders in the Council of Europe Area in Times of Crises”. The event was attended by human rights defenders, and civil society representatives from Council of Europe member states, as well as representatives of international organizations (UN, CoE, OSCE, Frontlines Defenders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch) that support the work of human rights defenders.

During the round table, much attention was paid to the situation in Russia, Belarus, and Turkey, but especially in Azerbaijan, where civil society has long been destroyed, and the activities of human rights defenders are under threat.

With UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor

In her speech, human rights activist, and director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy Leyla Yunus, using her own example, spoke about the terrible human rights situation in Azerbaijan – she and her husband Arif Yunus were arrested in the summer of 2014 as “Armenian spies” and charged with treason for their human rights activities and the struggle for peace with Armenians in the Karabakh conflict. They went through the circles of hell in the dungeons of the regime of Ilham Aliyev. Especially terrible were the tortures of the spouse, who spent almost two years in solitary confinement at the Ministry of National Security – the most terrible and secret prison in the country. In order to survive, they, without saying a word, began to secretly write a book about the torture experienced in prison. Later, already at liberty, they published a book of memoirs, which was published in Russian and German, as well as in English under the name “The Price of Freedom”, a publication in Dutch is currently being prepared.

With PACE General Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Sunna Evarsdottir

But that was later, and then they were in jail, as in August 2015 they were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. After the systematic torture, the health situation of human rights defenders was very bad and the authorities, under pressure from the international community, in April 2016 allowed them to leave the country and travel to Netherlands, where their daughter was living in exile. There they received the necessary medical care, and at the same time, they resumed the activities of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, on the website of which they began to regularly post materials showing the total violation of human rights in Azerbaijan.

With Council of Europe High Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović

It was thanks to Leyla Yunus that in 2017, the terrible crime of the Aliyev regime was revealed – the so-called “Terter case”, when several hundred up to 1000 (!) Military and civilians were arrested on charges of spying for Armenians, at least 11 of them were killed under torture, and about 100 were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

Moreover, thanks to the efforts of Leyla Yunus, the public became aware of the details of the so-called “Ganja case”, the facts of the use of the Soviet practice of forcibly confining dissidents objectionable to the regime in psychiatric hospitals, and many other facts of the crimes of the dictatorial regime of Ilham Aliyev.

She was not afraid and began to publish legal analyzes of the trials against Armenian prisoners of war on the website of the Institute of Peace and Democracy which showed that many articles of national and international law were violated in relation to the Armenian prisoners during the investigation and trial. During her speech, Leyla Yunus drew attention to this important topic and demanded their immediate release.

Of course, this activity of Leyla Yunus and her Institute for Peace and Democracy irritates the Azerbaijani authorities, who tried to deport them to their homeland through Interpol via international warrant and again opened an investigation against them on sham charges.

In his speech at the round table, Arif Yunus spoke about the repressive policy of the dictatorial regime of Ilham Aliyev against Azerbaijani emigrants, mainly in Europe. Many Azerbaijani political activists and members of civil society were forced to leave their homeland and find refuge in the West, from where they continued their fight against the authoritarian Aliyev regime. The most popular Internet channels in Azerbaijan today are Turan TV, Osmangizi TV, Time TV, and Azad Soz TV, as well as bloggers’ are working from Europe.

The authorities quickly assessed the new situation in 2017 and began to fight against dissidents in the West. Over the past 5 years, 14 cases of attacks have been recorded in the EU countries and the USA. For attacks and threats, the Aliyev regime hires killers from among Chechens, as well as Turkish citizens.

At the round table, Arif Yunus showed a map of the attacks and attached a list of attacks with a brief indication of the time and place of the attack, as well as who was attacked.

Map of attacks on Azerbaijani journalists, bloggers and activists

Now the situation for the activities of emigrants from Azerbaijan in Europe has become even more threatening. On June 16, 2022, information was posted on the website of the Government of the Netherlands that Nurlan Aliyev had started working as the 1st Secretary of the Azerbaijani Embassy. However, in reality, colonel Nurlan Aliyev is not a diplomat. For a long time, he worked in the Office of Military Counterintelligence under the Special Department of the President’s Office. Before arriving in the Netherlands in January 2022, he was transferred to the Foreign Ministry, where he completed a 6-month course on studying the situation in the Netherlands, but first of all, he collected information about the most active critics of the Aliyev regime in Europe.

After that, he came to the Netherlands with the sole purpose of coordinating the actions of the Azerbaijani embassies in the EU against the opposition figures and civil activists. That is – which of the Azerbaijanis living in Europe to bribe, who to intimidate, and who to kill? As for the official position in the Azerbaijani embassy in the Netherlands, this is a cover. It is no coincidence that Nurlan Aliyev reports not to the ambassador, his official boss, but to the leadership of the Special Department of the Presidential Administration.

That is why information about this “diplomat” was absent from the website of the Azerbaijani embassy in the Netherlands for a long time. He tried not to get into the lenses of photographers anywhere, and only after Arif Yunus spread information about this colonel from the Counterintelligence Department and posted a photo of him on his Facebook, information about him finally appeared on the embassy website.

In fact, the task of the newly-minted “diplomat” is the fight against dissidents in the Netherlands and other European countries, including assassinations.

If Azerbaijani human rights activists and political emigrants living in Europe do not feel safe and their lives are in serious danger, then what about those who remained in Azerbaijan?

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