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Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova

WASHINGTON -- A senior U.S. lawmaker has urged Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to release imprisoned investigative reporter and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova and other journalists, warning that their continued detention "will harm relations between our two countries."

U.S. Representative Ed Royce, a Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a January 28 letter to Aliyev that Azerbaijan's continued closure of RFE/RL's Baku bureau is damaging bilateral relations.

"I urge you to release Ismayilova, as well as other journalists imprisoned on dubious charges, and allow RFE/RL's Baku bureau to resume operations," Royce wrote.

Ismayilova was sentenced in September 2015 to 7 1/2 years in prison on charges widely viewed as retaliation for investigative reports linking Aliyev's family to massive business and real estate holdings.

Her imprisonment has been denounced by Western officials and international rights groups.

In December 2014, Azerbaijani prosecutors raided RFE/RL's Baku bureau -- seizing computers, hard drives, and other equipment before sealing off the premises.

RFE/RL closed its still-sealed Baku bureau in May but continues to broadcast to Azerbaijan from its headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic.

A Russian transsexual has been reportedly stabbed to death in Ufa, the capital of the Russian republic of Bashkortostan.

Russian reports cite Anzhela Likina's relatives and law enforcement officials as saying that she was attacked on February 1.

Likina, who was officially a male named Oleg Vorobyov, became well-known across Russia in 2014 after an online video went viral showing police officers stopping Likina for a traffic violation and then being shocked by her male name on the driver license.

Reports say that a boyfriend of Likina's former wife has been detained in the alleged attack.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community have faced problems in Russia and other ex-Soviet republics for years.

Russia has been harshly criticized for its gay-rights record, including a vaguely worded law banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors that many critics say has led to discrimination and attacks against the LGBT community.

Based on reporting by ufa1.ru and dni.ru

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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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