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Human Rights Crackdown Intensifies in Azerbaijan

Members of Journalists Without Borders protest against Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev in Berlin, January 21, 2015.

The crackdown on human rights in Azerbaijan has intensified with a string of trials that have targeted prominent civil society activists and journalists.

The sentencing of the prominent human rights lawyer to a lengthy prison term on Wednesday was the latest action taken by the authorities in what is widely seen as a part of repressive policies designed to suppress independent voices in Azerbaijan, analysts say.

Intigam Aliyev, the leader of the Legal Education Society, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on charges of tax evasion, engagement in illegal business and abuse of authority. His sentencing comes less than a week after another prominent human rights activist was sentenced to six and a half years in jail.

At his sentencing, Aliyev called the criminal charges against him to be politically motivated.

“The arrests can deprive us of our freedom, but they cannot take away our will to freedom,” Aliyev said in an emotional speech.

Rasul Jafarov, founder of the Human Rights Club and the organizer of the “Sing for Democracy” campaign during the Eurovision-2012 song contest in Baku, was convicted last week on identical charges to Aliyev.

On Tuesday, the Azerbaijani appellate court held a hearing on the case of Khadija Ismayilova, an RFE/RL journalist who was arrested on December 5, 2014 on a charge of driving someone to attempt suicide. Since then, the authorities have brought additional charges that carry up to 12 years of imprisonment, if convicted.

In the courtroom, Ismayilova was placed inside a soundproof glass cage surrounded by security guards. When her lawyers objected on the grounds of their inability to communicate with the client, the judge consulted with the security forces whether to allow her to leave the cage. The security convoy refused to free her.

Azerbaijan has jailed dozens of activists, journalists and human rights defenders under the authoritarian rule of President Ilham Aliyev.

According to a recent report by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Azerbaijan ranks among 10 most censored countries in the world, trailing behind nations such as Eritrea and North Korea.