September 01, 2015

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — A court in Azerbaijan convicted an investigative journalist on Tuesday of several financial crimes and sentenced her to 7½ years in prison, in a case widely criticized by human rights organizations.

Khadija Ismayilova and her supporters say the charges were retribution for her reports on alleged corruption involving President Ilham Aliyev and his family in the oil-rich former Soviet republic. Several other journalists and rights activists also have been imprisoned in Azerbaijan in what has been widely seen as an effort by the authoritarian government to stifle dissent.

The Baku court convicted Ismayilova of embezzlement, illegal business activity, tax evasion and abuse of power, but found her not guilty of inciting a colleague to commit suicide. The case against her was initiated when the colleague filed his complaint, but he later withdrew the accusation.

The prison sentence was slightly less than the nine years requested by prosecutors for 39-year-old Ismayilova, a contributor to U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “Khadija Ismayilova’s trial has been a farce, yet the consequences for her, and for all Azerbaijani journalists, are gravely serious,” Nina Ognianova of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. She called on Azerbaijan to overturn the conviction on appeal and “for Baku’s international partners to stop turning a blind eye to the country’s human rights abuses.”

Azerbaijan is holding at least seven other journalists in jail, CPJ said. Other rights groups also condemned the verdict. “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,” Denis Krivosheev of Amnesty International said in a statement.

In August, a prominent rights defender and her husband were convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison terms of 8 ½ years and seven years, respectively.

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