Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Leyla Yunus has been in pretrial detention for nearly three months.
She says she has been beaten and denied medical care for diabetes and other ailments.
By Shahnaz Huseynova and Daisy Sindelar October 20, 2014
On October 21, the European Parliament will announce the 17th annual Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, a distinction that comes with a 50,000 euro award ($64,000) and entry to a select club of some of the world's most respected human rights defenders.
In the case of Leyla Yunus, one of this year's finalists, the prize holds another potential benefit: pressure on the Azerbaijani court system, which is set this week to determine if the 58-year old activist will remain behind bars to face trial on charges -- dismissed by supporters as bogus -- of treason and espionage.
Yunus, the head of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy and an outspoken government critic, has already spent nearly three months in pretrial detention, where she complained of being physically beaten and denied medical care for diabetes and other ailments. 
On October 20, authorities appeared to ratchet up the pressure by abruptly transferring Yunus to a detention facility run by the Ministry of National Security, which is notorious for use of torture and other coercive tactics. Yunus's 59-year-old husband, Arif -- a well-known historian and activist in his own right -- is being held in the same facility on charges similar to hers. 
The unexpected transfer is seen as an attempt to further isolate Yunus, and comes just days before a court hearing on whether to extend her pretrial detention. The remand hearing is scheduled to be held this week, although an exact date has not been set. 
By law, Security Ministry officials are required to explain the need for a transfer before any move is made. But lawyer Alayif Hasanov told RFE/RL that he received no prior notification about the relocation. 
"The officials are meant to provide both us and the person being transferred with an explanation for the transfer and whether it's a matter of urgency," Hasanov said. "Based on that explanation, we can determine how reasonable or urgent the transfer was. But there's been no explanation."
Yunus's legal team expressed concern that the ministry's tighter restrictions on food and medicine deliveries may further compromise Yunus's health. Lawyer Khalid Bagirov expressed cautious hope that a positive announcement from the European Parliament could bring pressure to bear on authorities in Baku. 
"The Sakharov Prize is one of the most serious prizes in Europe, but I can't say how seriously the Azerbaijani government views it," he said. "I want to hope that if she's awarded the Sakharov Prize, Leyla Yunus will be set free." 
'Track Two' Diplomacy
Yunus, who has taken on corruption, domestic violence, and unlawful evictions over the course of her career, has run afoul of the Azerbaijani government more than once. But her current charges -- linked to her work promoting so-called "track two" diplomacy, or person-to-person contact, between Azerbaijan and archenemy Armenia -- are especially grave, and could carry a sentence of 15 years to life if Yunus is convicted. 
The Yunuses' arrests come amid a sweeping crackdown in Azerbaijan against journalists, lawyers, and other government critics. In recent months, the oil-rich regime of President Ilham Aliyev has arrested at least 11 activists on political charges despite assuming the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe, the European region's foremost human rights body, in May. 
Advocacy groups have slammed the government case against the Yunuses. In an October 18 press release, Human Rights Watch called on authorities to immediately release the couple and drop the charges against them, denouncing the case as "a travesty and a clear attempt by the Azerbaijan government to silence them with bogus charges." 
Yunus, who has published several open letters to her husband since their detention, has written passionately about the government's campaign, and has expressed mounting fear that she and her husband, who suffers from heart disease, may not live to see their release. 
In her latest letter, published the same day as her transfer, she wrote, "I clearly understand their goal is not just destruction, but brutal torture, insults, and physical torment, when death becomes the desired escape from the terrible suffering. This is our reality, and I clearly realize it. In other words, our work received the highest mark on the highest scale." 
The international community has traditionally offered only mild criticism of Baku's rights record, prompting allegations that Azerbaijan is using its energy riches to peddle influence abroad. 
Notable exceptions include the European Court of Human Rights, which on October 11 granted priority status to the Yunuses' case against their arrest, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which on October 15 ordered Azerbaijan to undergo a review of its civil society standards by the start of 2015. 
The couple's daughter, Dinara, who has lived in Amsterdam since receiving political asylum in the Netherlands, says the Sakharov Prize could help provide additional leverage against the Aliyev regime. 
"It might have an influence on her case, and it would also show the world what's really going on in Azerbaijan and how many political prisoners there are," she says. "I'm afraid that if she doesn't win, she won't have that protection from the Europarliament. The Sakharov Prize would give her protection in front of the Azeri government."
Yunus, who was nominated for the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament's Green Party faction, is considered a dark horse in the race, where Ukraine's Euromaidan protest movement and Denis Mukwege, a doctor crusading against rape in the Congo, have been backed by larger factions. 
The fates of past Sakharov laureates, however, indicate that the prize is not always accompanied by better conditions at home. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader, received the Sakharov Prize in 1990 but was only able to collect the award after her release from house arrest 20 years later. 
Other Sakharov prize-winners continue to face oppression, including the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and the Russian rights group Memorial -- founded and led by Sakharov himself -- which is facing current efforts by the Justice Ministry to liquidate its operations. 

Monday, 20 October 2014


Today saw the publication of Plaid Cymru’s Sustainable Communities Commission report on how to make Wales a country of more sustainable communities. We need to both empower people and to empower our communities, something that will lead to local democratic renewal, create a more sustainable infrastructure and also strengthen investment in our communities.

This is important because not only does the report focus on putting local communities across Wales at the heart of the sustainability agenda by giving them more power to make their own decisions, but it also advocates giving our communities the power to make their decisions actually happen. You can click here to read the full report. 

Plaid Cymru's Sustainable Communities Commission report was launched during a visit to the Crest Co-operative enterprise in Llandudno Junction by Hywel Williams MP for Arfon and Llyr Gruffydd AM who chaired the Commission.

The report includes proposals to reform and strengthen community councils so that they can decide what is best within their communities. It also recomends mapping publicly owned land so that it can be put to best use (such as affordable housing or community growing) and supporting sustainable infrastructure, including better internet connections, to ensure more connected communities for the future.

Good practice is highlighted in the report with successful examples that could be emulated across Wales included timebanking schemes in Cardiff, community groups that prevent loneliness and isolation amongst older people, community renewable energy generation schemes in west Wales and Powys as well as local procurement and regeneration schemes from Gwynedd. 

Speaking at the launch, shadow cabinet member, Llyr Guffydd AM said:

" Plaid Cymru wants to see Wales prosper with a strong economy and world-class public services. It wants a healthy natural environment supporting a society that is resilient to change. I believe the approach of starting with citizens and communities and building outwards is the best way of achieving this vision.

"Communities are the building blocks of our nation, bringing a rich diversity of experiences and places together.

"Our commission sought expert advice from many external groups and their input has played an important part in our findings.

"We will need to draw on all of our assets to find sustainable solutions to the challenges we face. Government simply can't do it on its own. We need to be creative and innovative. Engaging communities, building up their capacity and encouraging community-led responses can release much needed energy and creativity. We need to create a framework where communities can make a full contribution.

“Our recommendations include proposals to reform and empower community councils, mapping publicly owned land so that it can be put to best use, such as affordable housing or community growing, and supporting sustainable infrastructure, such as internet connections to create more connected communities.

“These ideas will inform our 2016 National Assembly manifesto, made relevant to all communities in all parts of Wales."

Hywel Williams MP for Arfon added:

"Crest Co-operative is just one example of countless enterprises throughout Wales which show what can be achieved when individuals come together to work in the best interests of their communities.

"Plaid Cymru wants to build a better Wales for the next generation, not resort to self-interest and short-termism.

"I hope that the findings of this Commission will spark wider discussions on what Wales can achieve when people rally around common goals that will benefit Welsh communities both economically and environmentally.

“We are all aware of the budget cuts and the need to maintain services. Local communities have to be part of that conversation, and that is why Plaid Cymru is putting local communities at the heart of Wales’ future."

Saturday, 18 October 2014


Some 25 years ago last week back in October 1989, amidst growing frustrations with East German style communist rule a wave of mass protests swept East Germany. Barely fifty years after East Germany was created in the Soviet occupied eastern Germany following the Second World War, these demonstrations would ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent transformation of Europe.

During the Cold War there were around some 5,000 successful escapes to West Berlin, and many failed escape attempts. There is an on-going argument about how many people died trying to escape to freedom - according to the Center for Contemporary Historical Research (ZZF) in Potsdam there were 136 confirmed deaths. Where once people risked everything to cross the old border now you stroll from one half of the city to the other with barely a thought about it.

I remember clearly recall watching the protests on TV and keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that the tyranny would fall. Almost miraculously it did and from that moment onwards all things literally became possible, it is easy to forget that we live in a post cold war Europe were it is quite possible and entirely normal for the peoples like the Scots, the Catalans and others to seek self-determination