Leyla Yunus

Leyla Yunus

Leyla Yunus is an Azerbaijani human rights activist and the director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), an organization founded in 1995 that promotes rule of law and conflict resolution between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In 1988, Yunus co-founded the Popular Front of Azerbaijan, and was the only woman in its first body. In 1990, Yunus formed the Social Democratic Party to establish a moderate political voice in Azerbaijan that rejected the Soviet regime’s extreme nationalism and violent repression. She is also highly regarded for her work aiding residents of Baku affected by forced evictions. On August 11, 2011, the IPD’s office in Baku was bulldozed by Azerbaijani authorities with only minutes’ notice. Yunus lost all archives and did not receive any compensation. When Azerbaijan won the bid to host the European Games in 2014, Yunus objected because of the country’s human rights situation and she was detained the following day, along with her husband Arif, on false charges of spying for Armenia. While detained for a year without trial, Leyla’s health dramatically deteriorated and Arif was tortured. In August 2015, Leyla was sentenced to eight and a half years, and Arif for seven, on charges of fraud and tax evasion. With great support of the international community, Leyla and Arif Yunus were released from prison. In 2016, they were allowed to leave Azerbaijan to pursue medical care, and they reunited with their daughter in the Netherlands.