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Minority rights activist gets 5-year jail sentence in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani authorities should immediately free longtime human rights activist and editor of Tolishi Sado newspaper, Hilal Mammadov, sentenced today to 5 years in prison following a flawed trial brought on politically motivated charges, Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety said today. The verdict is yet another chilling indicator of the ever-shrinking space for free expression in Azerbaijan.

Mammadov was convicted of illegal selling of drugs (Article 234.4.3/Criminal Code), treason (Article 274/Criminal Code), and incitement to national, racial, social and religious hatred and hostility (Article 283/Criminal Code) in a semi-closed trial at the Baku Grave Crimes Court. Human rights observers inside and outside Azerbaijan believe that that he is being punished for his journalism
and activism for national minorities' rights. Furthermore, the trial was highly flawed, with reports of people forced to provide false witness and lack of substantive evidence.

In his closing speech, Mammadov said the whole case against him was a disgrace for his country and its international image.

"Both the conduct of the trial and the sentence handed down to Mammadov are not befitting of a country that will assume the chairmanship of the Council of Europe next year," said Emin Huseynov, IRFS CEO and chairman. "This conviction not only violates Mammadov's right to free speech as enshrined in the Azerbaijani constitution, but also the country's commitments to the Council of
Europe."

Mammadov is the latest target of the increasingly severe crackdown on those exercising their rights to peaceful freedoms of expression, assembly and association in Azerbaijan. In the recent years, the government of Azerbaijan has imprisoned a record number of bloggers, journalists, youth activists and politicians.

IRFS condemns in the strongest possible terms the conviction of Hilal Mammadov as well as detention and imprisonment of 9 journalists, 2 bloggers and 3 human rights defenders and calls for their immediate release.

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