Summary: the third hearing (July 28)
· When court reconvened on Tuesday morning, July 28, we continued to hear from the prosecution’s witnesses.
· Rena Safaraliyeva, the current head of the Transparency International Azerbaijan chapter, claims to be a victim in the case. During the cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses, the defense continued to challenge Safaraliyeva’s version of events. In the meantime, there has been a great deal of controversy over the legitimacy of the power of attorney given to Safaraliyeva’s lawyer – already familiar to many for his role in Khadija Ismayilova’s case.
· Former colleagues describe Leyla Yunus as a reconciliation expert, who made significant contributions to the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Leyla Yunus is described as an expert who built her work on “well-reasoned” facts and arguments.
On July 28, the Baku Grave Crimes Court, chaired by Judge Afgan Hajiyev, held a hearing on the case of human rights defenders Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus.
Access to the courtroom was once again restricted, with limited numbers of people allowed inside.
The hearing continued with witness testimonies, starting with Ilgar Agayev, the driver who had worked for Leyla and Arif Yunus. He stated that he had no claims against the accused, and that the extent of his role had been driving the couple to and from various locations as needed.
The court then heard from Adila Manafova, who stated that she did not consider herself to be a victim and, added that she had worked with Leyla Yunus for three years at the “Azerbaijani Women for Peace and Democracy in the Caucasus” NGO. She said that together with Leyla Yunus, she frequently met with Georgians and Armenians and maintained contact with them, discussing the situation in the region and the Karabakh conflict. Adila Manafova then answered the questions from the public prosecutor and the defense counsels. During cross-examination, the defense counsel Afgan Mammadov asked whether the alleged victim Rena Safaraliyeva had been granted the power to hire a lawyer for the above NGO. The witness replied, “I have not granted her this power.”
Answering a second question from the defense on whether Leyla Yunus had participated in the initial activities of the “Azerbaijani Women for Peace and Democracy in the Caucasus” NGO, the witness replied, “We had a clear division of responsibilities in the organization. Back then we had contacts with Armenian representatives and at the time Leyla Yunus made significant contributions to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
In response to the defense counsel’s question on the scope of Leyla Yunus’ work and her responsibilities in regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, the witness told the court, “She presented well-reasoned facts. She put forward facts on the occupation and division of Azerbaijan’s territories. Armenians were unable to answer when presented with Ms. Leyla Yunus’ arguments…” At this point, the public prosecutor intervened, causing to Gambarov to say, “You bring Tahmasib Novruzov to the stand, but when there is an important witness, you even don’t allow me to ask questions.”
In response to the defense’s question about Rena Safaraliyeva’s function as the chairperson of the NGO, the witness stated, “Rena was in charge of clerical work. Ms. Leyla Yunus was not the head of the organization. She was a very democratic person.”
Another witness, Zemfira Ismayilova, testified that she had known Leyla Yunus for many years, since early nineties. the period of the Azerbaijan Popular Front. “There were a lot of women and men involved in Leyla Yunus’ organization. They were helping. Ms. Leyla Yunus organized a lot of meetings that we attended.”.
Ismayilova was then questioned by the public prosecutor. When asked whether she knew the organization, the “Azerbaijani Women for Peace and Democracy in the Caucasus” NGO, the witness said she did not know. But when the prosecutor said that she had signed the document as a founder, the witness said the signature did not belong to her and that the document dated back to 1994. She said that Rena Safaraliyeva was neither a founder or a member of the organization and added, “Last year, Rena called me and said that they were closing the organization. I went and signed (documents to legally dissolve the organization, Ed).
In response to the question from defense counsel Elchin Sadigov, “Do you have any girevances against Ms. Leyla Yunus?” the witness replied that she did not, adding, “Ms. Leyla Yunus held an event during the period that the Azerbaijan Popular Front was in power. She held an event in the Philharmonic Hall to commemorate the Khojaly events – even Flora (the singer) was so choked up with emotion that she could not sing.” (The Khojaly Massacre, also known as the Khojaly Tragedy, was one of the bloodiest episodes during the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, Ed). When Leyla Yunus asked, “Did you discuss suffering any damages caused by me during the dissolution of the organization in July 2014?”, the witness answered in the negative.
Leyla Yunus told the court, “According to the indictment, charges were brought against me by the first deputy general prosecutor on July 2, and the contract with Allahmanov was signed on July 15. It appears that they had found their defense counsel before my prosecution. This is illegal. Allahmanov cannot defend the victim. He cannot be a defense counsel.”
The final testimony of the day came from alleged victim Zarifa Hajiyeva, who said that she did not consider Leyla Yunus as a friend. The witness said, “They are now considered to be enemies of the nation. Leyla and Arif Yunus used to call my ex-husband Rauf (arrested journalist Rauf Mirgadirov) to try to convince him to travel to Armenia. This caused arguments in our family.”
The next court hearing has been scheduled for August 3 2015 at 10.00am.
Background: Leyla and Arif Yunus were arrested in late July and early August 2014 respectively. Leyla Yunus was charged under articles 178.3.2 (large scale fraud), 192.2.2 (illegal entrepreneurship), 213.2.2 (tax evasion), 274 (treason), 320.1 and 320.2 (falsification of documents). Arif Yunus was charged under articles 178.3.2 (large scale fraud) and 274 (treason).
Recently, the prosecuting authority decided to investigate the treason charge under separate proceedings.
Amnesty International has recognized Leyla and Arif Yunus as prisoners of conscience.