Charges dropped against Azerbaijani activist

The Azerbaijani authorities have dropped a defamation suit against a prominent human rights defender.

Leila Yunus, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, gave an interview to the news website, in which she raised allegations of human rights violations that had been revealed in a trial she is monitoring.

On 13 December 2008, five days after the publication of the interview, the Ministry of Internal Affairs filed a civil defamation case against Leila Yunus. They alleged she had made “ungrounded, fictitious and slanderous references” in the interview and demanded she refute her statements and pay a 100,000 manats (€96,858) fine.

Amnesty International labelled this an unacceptable obstacle to freedom of expression and in particular the work of human rights defenders and has welcomed the Minister’s decision to drop proceedings against Leila Yunus.

“Proceedings against Leila Yunus should have not been initiated in the first place. The ability of human rights defenders to work unhindered is vital for a functioning civil society,” said Nicola Duckworth, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme.

The trial that Leila Yunus was monitoring was that against Tavakkul, Elnur and Elchin Ismailov in the case relating to three missing girls, Diliafruz Dashtieva and two sisters Nailia and Reikhan Medzhidova, in Devechi district, Baku. Two bodies were found and identified by the authorities as two of the missing girls. However, the girls’ families disputed the identification of these bodies and have expressed fears that the girls are alive and had been kidnapped for the purpose of human trafficking.

The allegations of human rights violations raised by Leila Yunus included the failure of the court to thoroughly investigate claims made by the accused that they had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. There was also an allegation that a deputy head of the Devechi district police had ordered the kidnapping of the girls.

Leila Yunus held a joint press conference with the parents of the missing girls and the parents of the accused on 5 December. The court summoned the deputy head of the Devechi district police but he is reported to have denied any wrongdoing. No other investigation into the allegations of the officer’s involvement into trafficking has been reported.

In December 2008, the parents of the two missing sisters reported receiving threatening anonymous phone calls and expressed fears for the safety of their families.

Amnesty International has called for the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment made by the defendants in the case of the three young girls, and of possible police involvement in human trafficking, to be promptly, thoroughly, impartially and independently investigated by a body which is not subordinated in any way to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and is independent of it.