2 Azerbaijan rights activists charged with treason

AP News
Posted: Jul 31, 2014 4:32 PM

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Two prominent human rights activists in Azerbaijan have been charged with spying for Armenia, with one of them jailed for three months pending trial.

In a joint statement issued Thursday the general prosecutor's office and national security ministry outlined the charges against Leila and Arif Yunus, accusing the couple of recruiting citizens of Azerbaijan to work for the secret services of Armenia. Tensions between the neighboring former Soviet republics remain high over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Human Rights Watch said the charges "are bogus and intended to silence them" and called for an end to "this campaign of intimidation against Azerbaijan's leading human rights defenders."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the charges are "deeply concerning and represent a further restriction on peaceful civil society activities in Azerbaijan."

"These charges appear to be connected with their participation in constructive people-to-people programs that aim to ease tensions and build confidence in the region," she said. "We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to respect the universal rights of its citizens, ensure they are afforded all the fair trial guarantees to which all citizens are entitled, and allow them to freely express their views in accordance with international human rights commitments and obligations."

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Leila Yunus was detained Wednesday and ordered held for three months. Her husband was allowed to remain free under police supervision.