BAKU -- Azerbaijan has sentenced a prominent opposition leader to three years in prison on charges that she tried to smuggle undeclared cash across the border, according to her lawyer, who says the case is politically motivated.
Gozel Bayramli, deputy chairwoman of the Popular Front Party (AXCP), was arrested in May as she was returning to Azerbaijan from neighboring Georgia.
Azerbaijan's border service said at the time she was detained after she failed to declare $12,000 in cash.
The Qazax district court in Azerbaijan's northwest on January 23 found Bayramli guilty of smuggling $12,000 into the country and sentenced her the same day, her lawyer, Elcin Sadiqov said.
Sadiqov called the ruling illegal and unfounded and said he would appeal it.
Bayramli has maintained her innocence, saying the case against her is politically motivated. She insists that the banknotes were planted in her bag.
Bayramli "rejected all charges brought against her as false and told the court that her prosecution was politically motivated," Sadiqov said.
She called the trial "a black stain on a judicial system that executes a political order from the authoritarian regime," Sadiqov said.
"I believe that people of Azerbaijan who managed to prevail during the 70-year-long [Soviet] empire are capable of prevailing over the corrupt regime of [President Ilham] Aliyev. Aliyev's rule is today the major barbaric impediment for freedom...."
Critics of longtime President Ilham Aliyev's government say authorities of the oil-rich former Soviet republic frequently seek to silence dissent by jailing reporters, human rights activists, and civil-society advocates without grounds.
Dozens of AXCP members have been arrested and some imprisoned in the last several years on what their supporters have called trumped-up charges.
Aliyev denies any rights abuses.
He took over in 2003 shortly before the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled Azerbaijan since 1993.