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Azerbaijan Jails Opposition Activist on Drug Charges

Rights groups accuse the government of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev of launching a campaign to silence opposition since he was elected to a third presidential term in 2013.

Azerbaijan sentenced opposition activist Siraj Karimov to six years in prison Tuesday on drug-related charges.

Karimov and his brother, Faraj Karimov, an outspoken critic of President Ilham Aliyev, were arrested last July for allegedly selling drugs. Faraj Karimov is presently in pretrial detention.

Amnesty International has recognized Siraj and Faraj Kerimov, along with other jailed opponents of Azerbaijan's government, as "prisoners of conscience."

The London-based human rights group said in a report released this month that at least 20 government critics, political activists and journalists are in prison or in detention in oil-rich Azerbaijan, awaiting trial on charges ranging from fraud and embezzlement to abuse of drugs and treason.

They include the prominent human rights defender Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus.

Arif Yunus' brother, Ramis, told Voice of America that the real number of jailed government critics is much higher. “There are actually in jail more than 100 political prisoners. It is 'Absurdistan,' not Azerbaijan,” he said.

Ramis Yunus, a U.S. citizen, recently sent an open letter to President Barack Obama asking him to help gain the release of his relatives. Arif and Leyla, both in their 60s, “are on the edge of death,” Ramis wrote to Obama. “I hope that the U.S. will not sacrifice my family for the sake of its energy security.”

Another prominent prisoner of conscience is investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, a contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Ismayilova has investigated corruption in Azerbaijan, stating that it begins with the president and stretches all the way down to petty officials.

Ismayilova was accused of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of power. She said in court this month that charges against her were “fabricated” and politically motivated.

Aliyev, 53, became Azerbaijan's president in 2003 following an election that international observers said was flawed. Rights groups accuse his government of launching a campaign to silence opposition since he was elected to a third presidential term in 2013.

Azerbaijan will host the European Games this June.

VOA's Azerbaijan service contributed to this report.

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