A court in Azerbaijan has sentenced Elchin Ismayilli, a prominent opposition journalist, to nine years in prison for extortion, in a case that his supporters say is totally fabricated.
The court on Monday found Ismayilli guilty of trying to coerce money from a top Culture Ministry official.
Ismayilli’s lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, dismissed the ruling as politically-motivated and said the journalist was being punished for his investigative reports on corrupt Azerbaijani officials.
“The case has been fabricated and he was arrested for his professional activity,” said Sadygov after the court issued the ruling.
Ismayilli’s allies have criticized his prosecution, saying he is the latest victim of Azerbaijan’s crackdown on media activists.
Ismayilli ran a popular anti-government website in which he published reports on rampant corruption in Azerbaijan.
The 39-year-old was arrested in February. He is also a member of the National Front, the party critical of President Ilham Aliyev, whose administration has a grim record in dealing with journalists, writers and activists.
Many critics and dissidents have been jailed or face prosecution in the Caspian Sea country for what rights groups say are spurious charges brought against them by authorities.
The media rights group Reporters Without Borders has ranked Azerbaijan 162nd on its 2017 press freedom index, which studied 180 countries.
The group has called Ismayilli “one of a long list of journalists in Azerbaijan arrested on fabricated charges.”
Aliyev has ruled Azerbaijan since 2003 when his father, a former Soviet intelligence officer, died after 10 years in power as president.