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Azerbaijani theologian Taleh Bagirzade has been sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of publicly calling for the overthrow of the government and inciting hatred.

BAKU -- A court in Baku has sentenced several opposition figures to lengthy prison terms after convicting them of publicly calling for the overthrow of the government and of inciting ethnic, religious, and social hatred.

The Baku City Court for Grave Crimes sentenced theologian Taleh Bagirzade, the leader of a group called the Movement for Muslim Unity, and his deputy Abbas Huseynov to 20 years in prison. Fuad Qahramanli, deputy chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Sixteen other activists received prison terms ranging from 14 1/2 to 19 years.

Aside from Qahramanli, the defendants were arrested in November-December 2015 during a series of raids against alleged religious extremists in Nardaran, a village on the outskirts of Baku.

Seven people, including two police officers, were killed during the raids.

Qahramanli was arrested several days later for his posts on Facebook about the deadly raids and charged with public calls to overthrow the government.

Lawyers for the accused said the case against them was fabricated, and the defendants pleaded not guilty. Some said they incriminated themselves under torture during questioning.

Rights defenders in Azerbaijan say a total of 87 people have been arrested in what is known as the Nardaran case. Several were sentenced to prison in 2016, and two other groups are currently being tried separately.

Critics say the government of President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, has used trumped-up charges as part of a persistent campaign to silence dissent in the oil-producing, predominantly Muslim former Soviet republic.

According to two major mobile operators, the Kazakh Ministry of Information and Communications is currently creating a database of cellphones (file phone).

New legislation in Kazakhstan requires all mobile phones to be registered with a government database, according to mobile service providers in the Central Asian country.

The requirement is apparently aimed at helping combat terrorism.

Two major providers, Kcell and Beeline, said on January 25 that all unregistered mobile phones will be blocked as of July 1.

The companies said the requirement is a result of legislation against extremism and terrorism that was adopted on December 22.

They said the Kazakh Ministry of Information and Communications is currently creating a database of mobile phones using their International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers.

Tajikistan, another former Soviet republic in Central Asia, adopted a law in November obliging mobile phone owners to register their devices, citing the need to "to boost the fight against crime."

Based on reporting by Tengrinews, nurt.kz and news.tj

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