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Azeri journalist jailed in 'flawed trial'

September 1, 2015

Award-winning reporter Khadija Ismayilova was convicted of economic crimes and given a seven-and-a-half-year sentence. Human rights groups have denounced the 39-year-old's prosecution as politically motivated.

Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Karimov

Ismayilova, the former bureau chief of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty network, was found guilty on Tuesday of severe financial crimes, including embezzlement, tax evasion and illegal entrepreneurship.

Her case was widely criticized by human rights groups, who accused prosecutors of mounting "trumped up charges."

"This was yet another unfair trial, relying on fabricated charges," said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.

"The government has stepped up its brutal crackdown on political activists, journalists, human rights defenders - indeed anyone who dares to publicly raise a critical voice," he added, accusing the Azeri authorities of abusing the criminal justice system to persecute dissenters.

Ismayilova, who is considered to be the journalist most critical of President Ilham Aliyev, had been held in pretrial detention since December. State prosecutors had sought a nine-year jail term.

She maintains the charges were contrived in retaliation for her exposing state corruption, and during her final statement before sentencing, she vowed to continue her work from her prison cell.

Her defense lawyer Fariz Khamazly told Reuters: "We disagree with the verdict and plan to appeal it. The sentencing is not justified and has been pre-ordered."

President Aliyev has strongly denied accusations of rights abuses, while campaigners say he stepped up the pressure on opponents after his re-election for a third term in 2013.

Earlier this month, Azerbaijan gave a prominent rights activist couple lengthy jail terms, in a case that was also denounced as politically motivated.

mm/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)