Leyla Yunus

Leyla Yunus

Leyla Yunus is an Azerbaijani human rights activist and the director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, an organization that promotes rule of law and conflict resolution between Azerbaijan and Armenia. 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. In 2011, Yunus’ office in Baku was bulldozed by Azerbaijani authorities with only minutes’ notice, in what many believe to be retaliation for her criticism of police behavior during evictions. Fortunately, Yunus was traveling during the demolition. When Azerbaijan won the bid to host the European Games in 2014, Yunus objected on account of the country’s human rights situation and was detained the following day on false charges of spying for Armenia. She awaited trial for a year while her health dramatically deteriorated and was sentenced to 8.5 years in jail on charges of fraud and tax evasion. In 2016, Yunus and her husband Arif were allowed to leave Azerbaijan to pursue medical care and reunited with their daughter in the Netherlands.