Europe

Azerbaijan journalist Khadija Ismayilova jailed in Baku

Khadija Ismayilova (file pic)
Image caption Khadija Ismayilova was arrested in December last year

Leading Azerbaijan journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been sentenced to seven and a half years in jail for embezzlement and tax evasion.

A renowned investigative reporter, she had focused on businesses and offshore bank accounts allegedly linked to the family of President Ilham Aliyev.

Human rights organisations have complained that the trial was politically motivated.

Two prominent activists were jailed last month on similar charges.

Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif were given jail terms of eight and a half years and seven years, respectively.

Ismayilova: Giving Azerbaijan's government a headache

The Azerbaijan government said at the time the couple's court process had been open and free and that judicial independence and the rule of law were "fully guaranteed".

Image caption Khadija Ismayilova was an outspoken and renowned radio talk show host before her arrest

Responding to the latest verdict, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland linked the cases and spoke of a worrying trend against human rights activists and journalists.

He said the developments had a "chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country".

Image copyright AP
Image caption President Aliyev (here with his wife Mehriban Aliyeva) has been openly courted by Western countries

Human Rights Watch condemned the sentence as "outrageous".

Amnesty International accused the government of stepping up "its brutal crackdown" on journalists, political and human rights activists - "indeed anyone who dares to publicly raise a critical voice".

Although President Aliyev is accused of jailing opponents and clamping down on dissent, Azerbaijan has been openly courted by the West thanks to substantial gas reserves seen as a possible alternative to Russian supplies.

'Blackmail'

Addressing the court on Monday, Ismayilova, 39, said it was not a coincidence that she had been charged with embezzlement and tax evasion as these were the crimes she had written and spoken about as a journalist.

She was cleared of a separate charge of inciting a former colleague to suicide because, she said, she had refused to bow to government blackmail and had come out stronger.

Arrested in December last year, Ismayilova had become a recognised daily talk show presenter at Radio Azadliq, RFE/RL's Azeri service.

In 2011, intimate pictures and a video emerged of her with her boyfriend which had been captured by a hidden camera. A letter with the pictures warned her to stop investigating alleged government corruption.

Government officials and pro-government media outlets have accused her of being "pro-Armenian" or an "international agent".

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