An Azerbaijani human rights activist who spoke out against illegal house demolitions has had her office razed to the ground in what Amnesty International has labelled a "retaliatory attack" by the authorities.
The building owned by activist Leyla Yunus and her husband were destroyed by bulldozers last night, the day after she gave an interview to the New York Times newspaper criticizing a "beautification" project in the capital Baku.
"Leyla Yunus is the latest victim of a series of evictions and home demolitions taking place in Baku that the authorities are carrying out without respect for international standards," said Natalia Nozadze, Azerbaijan researcher at Amnesty International.
"Worse still, it appears that in this case Leyla Yunus may have been targeted in retaliation for her human rights work."
The property destroyed is used as an office space by several local NGOs.
These include Yunus' Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD), the Azerbaijani Campaign to Ban Landmines and the only women's crisis centre in Baku.
The demolition of Yunus’ office started around 8pm without any prior notice. It was carried out despite a court order banning any demolition attempts on the property until a court hearing on 13 September 2011.
IPD employee Azad Isazadeh told Amnesty International that construction workers supervised by police officers, started destroying the building without any prior notice, while he was still inside.
“We were not allowed to collect anything as the workers started demolishing the building and removing furniture and equipment. The only thing I could rescue was my notebook, everything else got destroyed or taken away,” said Azad Isazadeh.
The eviction and demolition of the Yunus’ property appears to be the latest example of the Azerbaijani authorities trying to intimidate those who dare to resist the wave of forced evictions.
“Authorities should immediately stop forced evictions and illegal demolition of private property and ensure that those affected by these illegal actions have access to appropriate remedy and provided with adequate compensation,” said Natalia Nozadze.
Hundreds of residents are thought to have lost their homes in Baku in recent years as part of a "reconstruction" programme, without being consulted or receiving adequate compensation.