Nomination of Azerbaijani activist for freedom prize branded “inappropriate” due to ongoing fraud case
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Nomination of Azerbaijani activist for freedom prize branded “inappropriate” due to ongoing fraud case

The nomination of an accused fraudster for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought – won last year by Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai – has been branded “inappropriate” by an MEP.
ALDE MEPs led by Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (Germany), Marietje Schaake (The Netherlands) and MEP Ramon Tremosa (Spain) have nominated Azerbaijani activist Leyla Yunus, despite the fact she is embroiled in a fraud case in her own nation.

Yunus faces charges over her involvement in a string of NGOs, including the Society of Women of Azerbaijan for Peace and Democracy for the Transcaucasus from which, court papers allege, she skimmedUSD88,468.00 between 2009 and 2012.

She is also linked to Institute for Peace and Democracy from which she is accused of illegally procuring a chequebook for her personal use.

A Socialist MEP who did not want to be named said the nomination was “not appropriate given the seriousness of the allegations” and the fact that the case is far from concluded.

“The Sakharov Prize is the EU´s most prestigious human rights award but, in the circumstances, I do not think her nomination is appropriate,” the deputy said.

As well as nominating her for the award, the same group of MEPs have called for her release from custody and for the criminal case against her to be dropped. This has prompted Baku to point out that such an action would undermine the independence of the judiciary in Azerbaijan, which it says has been reformed in the past decade in cooperation with the international community.

This same case, Azerbaijan also points out, is the result of it clamping down on graft both in government and civil society.

It is thought unlikely Yunus will get to the Sakharov Prize shortlist. She is up against Iraqi Law Professor Mahmoud Al-Asali who was murdered this year – apparently by ISIS – because he stood up for the minority Christian population in his home city of Mosul.

Last year the award went to brave Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban because she blogged about the importance of educating girls. In the same year she addressed the United Nations General Assembly and met with President Obama.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was inaugurated by the European Parliament in 1988 and takes its named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. Previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Kofi Annan.

By Martin Banks