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Azerbaijani oppositionist Ilqar Mammadov (file photo)

SAKI, Azerbaijan -- The leader of Azerbaijan's opposition Republican Alternative (REAL) party has been released from prison after serving more than five years of his seven-year term.

A court of appeals in the northern city of Saki ruled on August 13 that Ilqar Mammadov's remaining prison term must be suspended.

The court also ruled that Mammadov has a two-year probation period during which he will not be allowed to leave the country.

Mammadov called the ruling "not a complete victory," saying that that he and his lawyers had demanded "a full acquittal."

In a statement, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland welcomed the court order to release Mammadov, saying that "political prisoners in Europe, innocent people should not be deprived of their liberty."

Mammadov was arrested in February 2013 and charged with helping organize riots in the town of Ismayilli, northwest of Baku. He was sentenced to 7 years in jail in March 2014.

The opposition leader has insisted that the case against him was politically motivated.

In April, the Republican Alternative opposition movement announced it was now a political party but said it will not seek formal registration by the state.

Rights groups and Western governments have urged Azerbaijani authorities to release Mammadov and other political prisoners in the oil-rich South Caucasus country for years, and criticized the former Soviet republic's government for persistent clampdowns targeting independent journalists and rights defenders.

President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the Caucasus nation of almost 10 million people with an iron fist since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has shrugged off the criticism.

Iranian police officers prepare a hanging rope.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that Iranian officials are trying to head off a looming economic crisis with threats of "new rights-abusing policies," including applying the death penalty for economic crimes.

"Executions, an inhumane and inherently irreversible punishment, are never the answer, and in this case can only distract from other causes of this economic turmoil," the New York-based rights watchdog said in an August 10 statement.

Iran has faced growing economic difficulties since the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers in May, fueling a crash in the value of the national currency, the rial.

The United States on August 7 reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy that were lifted under the nuclear deal in exchange for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program. A second round of penalties is due to come into effect in early November.

Meanwhile, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, as well as a number of hard-liner lawmakers and newspapers have called for executing people found responsible for contributing to the country's economic woes, which have triggered street protests in Tehran and other cities.

"Today, officials increasingly talk about the need to combat corruption at every level," HRW said. "Yet to do so requires an independent judiciary that ensures due process rights for all those accused."

The group added that the Iranian judiciary's "long record of violating detainees' rights and wanton application of the death penalty raises grave concerns."

Iran has sentenced to death and executed several people on "vague fraud charges with little transparency or due process," according to HRW.

It cited the case of Babak Zanjani, a wealthy businessman who is currently on death row on charges of withholding more than $2 billion in oil revenue channeled through his companies.

Iran is one of the world's leading executioners. Amnesty International said in April that 507 people were executed in the country last year, including at least five juvenile offenders.

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