Azerbaijani journalist sentenced in widely criticized case

BAKU, Azerbaijan — An investigative journalist in Azerbaijan was sentenced to six years in prison Friday. Human rights advocates called the charges trumped-up and demanded his immediate release.

A court in Baku convicted Afgan Mukhtarli on charges of smuggling, illegal border crossing and violently resisting arrest. The journalist says he is innocent and his lawyer, Neymet Kerimli, said he would appeal the verdict.

Mukhtarli said he was abducted in May outside his home in neighboring Georgia, beaten up and taken to the border with Azerbaijan. He said his captors also planted 10,000 euros (about $12,000) on him.

Mukhtarli, who had exposed high-level corruption in Azerbaijan, had fled to Georgia in 2014 fearing persecution for his work. International rights groups have described his case as part of a systematic crackdown on dissent and independent media in the oil-rich ex-Soviet nation.

"(Mukhtarli is) the latest victim of Azerbaijan's repressive apparatus of fear, which punishes anyone who dares to criticize the government," said Levan Asatiani of Amnesty International.

"Today's judgment casts a dark shadow not only on the Azerbaijani authorities who brought these trumped-up charges, but also on the Georgian authorities, who at the very least failed to prevent his illegal transfer," Asatiani said. "Afghan Mukhtarli is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released."

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