BAKU May 15 An opposition journalist in
Azerbaijan was sentenced on Thursday to eight years in prison in
a case critics say highlights a government-led crackdown on
dissent in the oil-rich former Soviet republic.
A largely Muslim state in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan
serves as a transit route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan as well
as a source of energy supplies destined for Europe.
But the strongman rule of President Ilham Aliyev has been
lambasted by international rights organisations for curbing
freedom of speech.
Parviz Gashimly, a journalist, human rights activist and
member of the Popular Front opposition party, was jailed after
being convicted on charges of hooliganism and illegal weapons
Gashimly, who had written critical articles about Aliyev,
was arrested last September after police raided his apartment
and reported finding firearms.
"Arguments of defence have not been taken into account,
which is a proof that the whole case is politically motivated,"
Gashimly's lawyer, Elchin Sadikhov, told reporters. "Authorities
are trying to intimidate journalists and prevent publication of
critical articles." He said the verdict would be appealed.
The government says Azerbaijan's nine million people enjoy
full freedom of speech and access to a lively opposition press.
Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner at the Council of
Europe, said earlier this month however that freedoms were
deteriorating in Azerbaijan, urging authorities to uphold
regional standards and citing a "worrying pattern" of abuse.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Margarita Antidze;
Editing by Mark Heinrich)