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US Welcomes Azerbaijan Decision to Allow Activist to Travel

FILE - Azerbaijani rights activist Leyla Yunus walks with her husband Arif Yunus after she was released from prison in Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 9, 2015.

The United States welcomed on Tuesday a decision by Azerbaijan to allow human rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus, a historian, to leave the country for urgent medical purposes.

"The United States welcomes as another positive step Azerbaijan's decision," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

"We encourage the government to take additional steps and unconditionally release all individuals who have been incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms," he added.

Leyla Yunus, head of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy, had been held in detention since July 2014 before her release in December. She was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail last August.

Her husband, who was sentenced to seven years, was released from prison Nov. 12. They were convicted of treason, espionage and tax evasion in a case that human rights groups say was part of a campaign to muzzle dissent.