BAKU — The launch of Azerbaijani lawyer Elcin Qambarov’s tell-all book about a prominent former client, human rights activist Leyla Yunus, has sparked accusations of backstabbing, betrayal, and impropriety.
During the December 8 unveiling of The Splendor And Misery Of Leyla Yunus, Qambarov’s take on his time defending Yunus, the lawyer and a slate of speakers from parliament, along with other high-ranking state officials, took turns bashing the 62-year-old Yunus. They alleged that Yunus illegally funneled funds and called her a traitor who had been used as a “tool” against Azerbaijan by archenemy Armenia.
The accusations against Yunus, who lives with her husband in exile after being convicted in 2015 of economic crimes after a trial that the couple and international human rights groups denounced as a farce, have triggered a maelstrom over their treatment and place in the country’s history.
“She betrayed Azerbaijan,” parliamentarian Sahib Aliyev said at the book launch in the capital, Baku. “She betrayed all human rights activists and put them at risk.”
Chingiz Ganizade, another member of parliament who attended the event, accused Yunus of “receiving grants for conducting anti-Azerbaijani activity.”
Leyla, her husband, Arif, and their unregistered Peace and Democracy Institute defended victims of human rights abuses, from unlawful arrests to forced evictions, and encouraged peace-building between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The two neighbors fought a bloody and still-unresolved war between 1988 and 1994 over Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The couple has also been investigated in Azerbaijan on charges of spying for Armenia. Leyla and Arif were detained in April 2014 and subsequently handed harsh prison terms of 8 1/2 and 7 years in prison, respectively, on charges of fraud, tax evasion, and illegal business activities. The charges have been widely decried as bogus.