Azerbaijani Court Orders Forcible Return Of Activists Leyla, Arif Yunus

BAKU -- A court in Azerbaijan has ordered human rights activists Leyla and Arif Yunus to be returned to the country by force from the Netherlands to participate in new hearings in their politically charged case.

On May 17, the Baku Court of Appeals rejected a motion by the couple's lawyer Elcin Sadiqov to allow his clients to take part via a video link. The judge also ruled that the hearing will be held on May 31.

Sadiqov said the ruling may lead the Azerbaijani authorities to issue international arrest warrants for the Yunuses.

Leyla Yunus, 61, and Arif Yunus, 62, were arrested separately in 2014 and convicted of economic crimes in August 2015 after a trial that the couple and international human rights groups denounced as a travesty of justice.

They were sentenced to 8 1/2 and 7 years in prison, respectively, but they were released on health grounds in late 2015 when their prison terms were replaced with suspended sentences.

They were allowed to travel to the Netherlands in April 2016 to receive medical care and have lived there since.

New hearings were ordered last month after the court started examining an appeal from the pair, who are seeking full exoneration.