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The Search for “Armenia Spies”: Azerbaijan Human Rights Activist and Her Husband Detained in Baku

Human rights activist Leyla Yunus (pictured) and her husband, conflictologist Arif Yunus, on the evening of April 28 were detained at Baku airport. The couple were flying to Doha, from where they were supposed to fly to Paris and then to Brussels at the invitation of the European Union to participate in an international conference. This news was reported by Baku-based news provider Contact.az. They were not allowed to meet with their attorney

At border control, they were told they are prohibited from leaving the country. The Western diplomats accompanying the spouses (the French ambassador and US deputy ambassador) negotiated with Deputy Chief of Azerbaijan's Presidential Administration Novruz Mammadov, after which the couple was allowed to pass, but later they were again stopped while trying to board the plane. 

Speaking over the phone with Turan news agency, Leyla Yunus said arriving at the airport were four individuals in civilian clothes and with video cameras who tried to interrogate the spouses, but she refused to speak to them without an attorney. 

Haqqin.az reports that Leyla and Arif Yunus were arrested in connection with Azerbaijani Russian-language newspaper Zerkalo reporter Rauf Mirkadirov, who was deported from Turkey and arrested in Azerbaijan on charges of treason and cooperating with Armenia's special services.

The human rights activist also managed to talk on the phone with a correspondent with RFE/RL's Azerbaijan service (Radio Azadliq): "Now they are checking our luggage at the airport. Our computers and personal notes were confiscated. And they are filming this all on camera. Then they will begin to search my apartment and office. The authorities have banned us from leaving the country. They haven't explained to us the reason for the search. All this is illegal. Employee of the Prosecutor General's office Lemberansky [head of the team investigating the case of Rauf Mirkadirov] arrived at the airport and forbade our lawyer Khalid Bagirov to be present during the search."

According to Leyla Yunus, this is an order issued from the presidential administration. "They want to uncover a so-called group of Armenia spies and appoint me, Leyla Yunus, as the head of this spy ring."

Later, the spouses were taken home from the airport, where a search was conducted. Leyla Yunus' phone was disabled at around 3 am. According to the attorney, Khalid Bagirov, most likely it was taken away from her. 

A search was conducted also at the office of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, where she is the president. As reported by the Haqqin.az correspondent, after the search, Leyla Yunus and her husband were detained as suspects. 

According to Bagirov, the search of the couple's apartment and the officer were conducted without warrant and without a lawyer. "Also we were not informed on what grounds the search was conducted," he said. 

RFE/RL's Azerbaijan service reports that Leyla Yunus' name was noted also in Rauf Mirkadirov's case. At the Court of Appeal, Mirkadirov rejected the charges against him.

Video credit: RFE/RL's Azerbaijan service (Radio Azadliq)