August 5, 2014 / 7:02 PM / 5 years ago

Azerbaijan accuses another rights activist of espionage

BAKU (Reuters) - A human rights activist in Azerbaijan has been arrested, just days after his activist wife was locked up, in a case that critics say highlights how the government is cracking down on dissent in the former Soviet republic.

Arif Yunus, an expert at the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy, was arrested on Tuesday on his way to visit his wife, Leyla Yunus, the head of the institute and herself a prominent human rights activist. Her three-month detention was ordered by a court last week.

The prosecutors’ office said Arif Yunus violated travel restrictions that were imposed on him last week. The Azeri court on Tuesday ordered him held for three months in pre-trial detention.

The prosecutors said Arif and Leyla Yunus are accused of having links to the special forces of neighboring Armenia and being involved in recruiting Azeri citizens for espionage.

Fresh fighting broke out last week between Azeris and Armenians around Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave within Azerbaijan with a majority Armenian population.

Conflict between ethnic Azeris and Armenians erupted there in 1991 after Armenian-backed forces seized the area and nearby Azeri districts. A ceasefire was brokered in 1994, but efforts to reach a permanent settlement have failed.

Mainly Muslim Azerbaijan has been governed by President Ilham Aliyev since he succeeded his father in 2003. It has been courted by the West as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe.

Rights groups accuse the government of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents, charges it denies. Amnesty International says Azerbaijan is holding 20 prisoners of conscience.

Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Larry King

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