BAKU: A court in Azerbaijan on Monday sentenced a prominent journalist to six years in jail for spying for arch-enemy Armenia, in a case slammed by rights groups as politically motivated.
The court for serious crimes in the capital Baku “found Rauf Mirkadyrov guilty of high treason, namely of spying for Armenia, and sentenced him to six years in prison,” the journalist’s lawyer Fuad Agayev told AFP.
“My client rejects the accusations as politically motivated,” he added.
Mirkadyrov, 54, has been held in pre-trial detention since his arrest in April 2014 in Baku after he was deported from Turkey.
Prosecutors claimed that Armenia’s secret services recruited him in 2008, and he supplied Yerevan with state secrets.
The prize-winning journalist’s arrest last year sparked widespread condemnation from international rights groups and the West.
Human Rights Watch has said Mirkadyrov was being “punished for his outspoken views” and that his prosecution sent “a chilling message to others that dissent will not be tolerated.”
Reporters Without Borders last week called his a “sham trial” and appealed for Mirkadyrov’s immediate release.
“This journalist is the latest victim of President Ilham Aliyev’s witch hunt against his regime’s critics,” the head of the media watchdog’s Eastern Europe desk Johann Bihr said.
Mirkadyrov is the politics correspondent for the independent Russian-language newspaper Zerkalo, or Mirror, which is published in Azerbaijan.
He had been based in Ankara for several years and published articles critical of both the Turkish and Azerbaijani leadership.
In 2008, he was awarded the Gerd Bucerius “Free Press of Eastern Europe” international prize “for achievements in the development of independent media.”
Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a protracted conflict over Azerbaijan’s disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.
In the 1990s the two countries fought a bloody war for control of the region and despite years of negotiation since a 1994 ceasefire, a peace deal is yet to be signed.
Oil-rich Azerbaijan, a tightly controlled former Soviet country, is criticised by rights organisations for attacks on free speech under its strongman Aliyev.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Azerbaijan 162 out of 180 countries in its 2015 World Press Freedom Index.