BAKU (Reuters) - Azerbaijan on Thursday released Arif Yunus, husband of leading human rights activist Leyla Yunus, from prison on health grounds, and his lawyers said they would press ahead now to try to secure the release of his wife.
Arif, 60, was sentenced to seven years and Leyla Yunus, head of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy, to 8-1/2 years in jail in August after being convicted of economic crimes in a case that human rights groups say was part of a campaign to muzzle dissent.
Critics of Azerbaijan's President, Ilham Aliyev, accuse him and his government of cracking down on dissent in the oil-rich former Soviet republic to block the rise of any political opposition. He denies this.
Despite the charges by rights organizations, the West treads a fine diplomatic line in dealings with Baku, courting it as an alternative to Russia as a source of oil and gas for Europe.
Amnesty International regards the Yunuses as prisoners of conscience and say their case is one of several in which rights activists and journalists have been jailed this year.
Human rights groups have highlighted health issues the Yunuses have been suffering from and said the court proceedings violated their right to a fair trial.
Though a court released Arif on Thursday, it barred him from leaving the capital.
"The basis for Arif's release was a letter from the Justice Ministry's medical department, which confirmed deterioration of his health," his lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, told Reuters, adding that lawyers would continue to request Leyla's release.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Richard Balmforth)