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Azerbaijani oppositionist Asif Yusifli (file photo)

BAKU -- A high-ranking member of Azerbaijan's opposition Popular Front Party has been sent to jail.

The Baku Court for Serious Crimes found Asif Yusifli guilty of fraud and forgery on July 30 and sentenced him to 7 1/2 years in jail the same day.

Yusifli's co-defendant, Rafiq Huseynov, was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in jail on the same charges.

Yusifli, who was arrested in November, pleaded not guilty and called the case against him a retaliation by the authorities for his political and rights activities.

International and domestic human rights organizations, as well as EU and U.S. officials have expressed deep concern about Azerbaijan's crackdown on oppositionists, rights activists, and journalists in recent years.

Baku denies accusations saying there are no political prisoners in the country.

Khadija Ismayilova

The U.S. National Press Club presented its highest press freedom prize to jailed Azeri investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova on July 29.

Ismayilova, who is a contributor to RFE/RL, has been held in pretrial detention in Baku for 234 days on charges many observers say were motivated by her investigations into high-level corruption involving Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

At a first hearing in Ismayilova's case on July 24, an Azerbaijani judge rejected motions to dismiss charges of tax evasion and embezzlement and grant Ismayilova house arrest as a substitute for pretrial detention. Ismayilova faces a possible prison sentence of 19 years.

“Khadija is in prison because of her journalism," said RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic, who accepted the award on Ismayilova’s behalf.

"This award is an acknowledgement of her courage and her convictions, but it is also a call to all of us here tonight to condemn her imprisonment and demand her freedom.”

Other jailed reporters receiving the club's John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award this year were Syrian correspondent Austin Tice and Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post's Tehran correspondent.

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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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