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Rauf Mirkadirov

An Azerbaijani court has sentenced a prominent journalist to six years in prison for spying for Armenia, in a case that is seen as as a continuation of Baku's recent crackdown on political dissent.

Rauf Mirkadirov was found guilty of "high treason, namely of spying for Armenia, " the journalist's lawyer said on December 28.

The lawyer, Fuad Agayev, said that Mirkadirov "rejects the accusations as politically motivated."

Until his arrest last year, Mirkadirov, 54, worked as a correspondent for the Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo," which is published in Azerbaijan.

The Prosecutor-General's Office alleged that Mirkadirov "was recruited by the Armenian secret services in 2008 and supplied Yerevan with information on Azerbaijan's state secrets."

Mirkadirov was accused of meeting with Armenian agents several times in Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey and providing them with images and documents that damaged Azerbaijan’s security and defense capabilities.

Prosecutors claimed Mirkadirov was "recruited " as a spy by prominent Azerbaijani rights activist Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus.

Leyla and Arif Yunus were jailed last year and sentenced to lengthy prison terms earlier this year after being convicted of fraud and other crimes in a trial widely denounced as a travesty, but have since been released from custody on health grounds. Their convictions technically remain in place, and the two continue to face charges of treason in a separate case stemming from allegations they spied for Armenia.

Mirkadirov was based in Ankara for several years and published articles critical of both the Turkish and Azerbaijani leadership.

In 2008, he was awarded the Gerd Bucerius "Free Press of Eastern Europe" international prize "for achievements in the development of independent media."

Mirkadirov was detained in Baku after he was deported from Turkey in April 2014.

His arrest sparked widespread condemnation from international rights groups and the West.

Human Rights Watch has said Mirkadirov was being "punished for his outspoken views."

Mirkadirov's prosecution sent "a chilling message to others that dissent will not be tolerated," the rights watchdog said.

Reporters Without Borders last week called the journalist "the latest victim of President Ilham Aliyev's witch hunt against his regime's critics."

Azerbaijan and Armenia remain locked in hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani territory that was seized by Armenian-backed separatists during a war in the early 1990s.

Rights groups consider Azerbaijan’s government to be among the world's most repressive when it comes to the media.

Mirkadirov's sentencing came the same day that Azerbaijan's president signed a decree pardoning 210 prisoners.

The amnesty, however, didn't include those widely considered to be political prisoners, including award-winning journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova and rights activist Rasul Jafarov.

Local rights activists say there are more than 90 prisoners of conscience in the oil-rich former Soviet country jailed on politically motivated charges.

With reporting by AFP
Journalists Demand Minister's Dismissal Over Sexist Comment
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Hundreds of journalists have protested across Serbia demanding the prime minister keep a promise to dismiss his defense minister, who recently made a sexist comment to a female journalist.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said two weeks ago that he was replacing Bratislav Gasic, but Gasic has remained in office.

Gasic sparked outrage after a journalist from B92 Television knelt down in front of him to avoid being in the way of cameras and he commented, "I like these female journalists who kneel down so easily."

The protests dubbed "Journalists Do Not Kneel" were held in several towns late on December 21. Organizers say that Gasic remaining in office "shows how media are treated in Serbia."

Vucic has faced accusations of curbing media freedom despite pledging reforms.

Based on reporting by AP

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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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