Azerbaijan sentences journalist to nine years in prison

Journalist Elchin Ismayilli was arrested in February for trying to coerce money from a culture ministry official. (Courtesy: Meydan TV)

A court in Azerbaijan on Monday sentenced opposition journalist Elchin Ismayilli to nine years in prison for extortion, in a case his supporters slammed as politically motivated.

The 39-year-old journalist -- whose website has often criticized local authorities in the tightly-controlled country -- was arrested in February for allegedly trying to coerce money from a top culture ministry official.

Allies of the reporter, who is also a member of the opposition party National Front, insist he is just the latest reporter to run afoul of the authorities for investigating rampant corruption.

“The case has been fabricated and he was arrested for his professional activity,” Ismayilli’s lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, told AFP.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan has repeatedly been accused by rights groups of using spurious charges to crack down on dissent against President Ilham Aliyev’s authoritarian regime.

Journalist rights group Reporters Without Borders has called Ismayilli “one of a long list of journalists in Azerbaijan arrested on fabricated charges”.

Azerbaijan ranks 162nd out of 180 countries on the group’s 2017 press freedom index.

Aliyev took control of the country after the death of his father Heydar in 2003, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:55 - GMT 06:55