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Baxtiyar Haciyev in a Baku courtroom during his trial last year
BAKU -- A court in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, has rejected an appeal by a former opposition parliament candidate and social-media activist for early release from a prison sentence for evasion of military service.

Baxtiyar Haciyev (aka Bakhtiyar Hajiyev), a U.S. Harvard University graduate and member of the Positive Change movement, was arrested in March 2011, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison for evading the compulsory military service required of Azerbaijani young men.

He has denied any violation of law.

Ahead of the appeal ruling, a group of Harvard University instructors sent a letter to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, urging Haciyev's prompt release.

International human rights watchdogs have also called on the Azerbaijani authorities to release Haciyev and other jailed opposition activists.

Haciyev's previous request for early release was rejected in December.
The New-York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Azerbaijani authorities to allow two detained television journalists access to their lawyers and families.

Vuqar Qonaqov and Zaur Quliyev work for Xayal TV, a regional station based in the eastern city of Quba.

They were detained on March 13, kept for a week in pretrial detention, and then transferred to Interior Ministry facilities in Baku.

In a report published on March 28, HRW says it is not clear what they are accused of, and the conditions of their detention appear to violate Azeri and international law.

The report suggests that the detentions could be linked to a video the journalists posted on YouTube that has been linked to the March 1 rioting in Quba.

The video, which shows Quba Mayor Rauf Habibov denouncing residents, has been viewed as a catalyst for the unrest.

Read more in Azeri here

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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