Azerbaijani human rights activist Arif Yunus, who has been in prison since his arrest last year with his wife Leyla Yunus, has been released from jail due to his deteriorating health.
The Baku appeals court granted his release at the request of his lawyers, but barred him from leaving the capital.
In August Arif Yunus was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion. His wife Leyla, the head of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years on the same charges. They are both awaiting trial for treason.
The Yunuses, who deny all the charges, say the cases against them are politically motivated. Their sentences have been widely condemned by international human rights groups.
Arif Yunus’s legal situation remains unchanged despite his release. Before leaving the courthouse, he was required to sign a document barring him from leaving Baku.
The request for his release was based on a medical examination by German physicians, who said his extremely high blood pressure put him at risk of a heart attack.
After leaving the court, Arif Yunus told journalists that his wife’s medical condition was even worse than his. He said that Leyla Yunus has hepatitis C, diabetes and kidney stones.
“If they send her to the prison for women, it will kill her,” he said.
Leyla Yunus, 59, is a vocal critic of Azerbaijan’s human rights record. Prior to her arrest in July 2014, she had been working on a project documenting political prisoners in the country.
Arif Yunus, 60, is a well-known historian and researcher of conflicts across the Caucasus, focusing mainly on the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mostly Armenian-populated region that Armenian-backed separatists seized from Azerbaijan during a war in the early 1990s.
Both of the Yunuses are advocates of peace and reconciliation between neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have been in conflict for more than two decades over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Leyla Yunus is among several activists, journalists, and government critics who are behind bars in Azerbaijan, where rights groups say the president, Ilham Aliyev, has pursued a campaign to silence dissent.