* Council of Europe rights chief says dismayed by human
rights defender's questioning
* Leyla Yunus is questioned by prosecutors for nine hours
* Authorities say Azerbaijan enjoys full freedom of speech
By Margarita Antidze and Nailia Bagirova
BAKU, April 29 A European rights monitor urged
Azerbaijan authorities on Tuesday to ensure that freedom of
expression, association and assembly is respected and to halt
pressure on human rights defenders.
Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner for the Council of
Europe, made his plea after the detention and a nine-hour
questioning of prominent human rights defender Leyla Yunus.
Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim former Soviet republic, has been
governed by President Ilham Aliyev since he succeeded his father
in 2003. It has been courted by the West because of its role as
an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe.
Rights groups accuse Azerbaijan of muzzling dissent and
jailing opponents, charges the government denies.
Yunus, the head of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and
Democracy, was detained last night together with her husband at
Baku airport as they leaving for Brussels via Doha to attend an
Leyla was questioned by prosecutors on Tuesday and released
after nine hours, while her husband Arif was hospitalised in a
Yunus's office was searched and her lawyer said after her
questioning that she would be a witness in a case against a
prominent Azeri journalist Rauf Mirkadyrov, whom prosecutors
charged with espionage last week.
"This is an additional example showing the extent of
intimidation and repression of critical voices in Azerbaijan,"
Muiznieks said in a statement, commenting on detention and
questioning of Yunus.
"As a member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has the
duty to comply with its human rights obligations and
Muiznieks published a report on human rights violations in
Azerbaijan last week, saying rights were deteriorating in the
oil-rich country. The government says the country's nine million
people enjoy full freedom of speech and a lively opposition
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze and Nailia Bagirova; Writing by
Margarita Antidze; Editing by Angus MacSwan)