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DUSHANBE -- A lawyer and opposition politician has been sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted of taking a bribe.

A court in the capital, Dushanbe, convicted and sentenced Shuhrat Qudratov on January 13.

Qudratov is a leader of opposition Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, which included his name on its list of candidates for March 1 parliamentary election despite his being held in pretrial detention.

Qudratov was detained in July.

He is a lawyer for Zayd Saidov, a businessman and leader of the unregistered opposition party New Tajikistan who was sentenced to 26 years in jail in December 2013 for financial fraud, polygamy, and sexual relations with a minor.

Saidov's lawyers, including Quratov, have denied the charges and claim they are politically motivated.

The United States wants to engage with Azerbaijan "more vigorously" and at higher levels, a top State Department official said on January 12.

Thomas Melia, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said at a National Endowment for Democracy event that the United States is "looking for a way to engage constructively with our partners in the government of Azerbaijan."

At the same time, Melia said the United States "will continue to support the independent voices that are seeking to move their country more briskly into the modern democratic world."

The comments came amid what Western officials and human rights activists describe as a crackdown on critics of the government in the oil-rich Caspian nation.

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