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Baku Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal against the conviction of Faig Amirli, financial director of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq, for ‘tax evasion’ and ‘abuse of power’.
Amirli will now serve the remainder of his sentence, three years and two months, in prison.
One of Amirli’s lawyers was prevented from attending the 31 August hearing, according to Caucasian Knot.
According to Caucasian Knot, another of Amirli’s lawyers, Fahraddin Mehdiyev, appealed to the judge based on his client’s ‘serious health problems’.
‘Faig suffers from liver and gallbladder diseases. Detention aggravated his chronic stomach disease’, Mehdiyev said, adding that the charges against his client are unfounded.
The Sabail District Court in Baku found Faig Amirli, who also served as an assistant to the chair of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, guilty of tax evasion and abuse of power on 24 July. He maintains his innocence and claims his prosecution is politically motivated.
Amirli was detained on 20 August 2016 accused of possessing banned and illegally imported books on Fethullah Gülen, the US-based imam who Turkey accuses of organising the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. He was charged with instigating ‘inter-religious hostility’ and ‘encroachment on the rights of citizens under the pretext of performing religious rites’
These charges were dropped in April 2017 and new charges of tax evasion and abuse of power brought. Sabail District Court sentenced him to three years and three months in prison on 24 July, and fined him ₼39,000 ($23,000).
Azerbaijan’s media crackdown
On 24 August, the head of independent Azerbaijani news outlet the Turan Information Agency Mehman Aliyev was arrested. Aliyev has also been charged with ‘tax evasion’ and ‘abuse of power’. Turan, who in the have in the past resisted government censorship, is currently being investigated for alleged financial irregularities.
[Read on OC Media: Head of Azerbaijan’s Turan news agency detained]
According to rights group Amnesty International, Azerbaijani authorities are ‘continuing to use the same charges to arrest and silence government critics’.
American rights group Human Rights Watch has condemned Amirli’s arrest and prosecution. According to them, a state-run printing house refused to publish Azadlig in September after the newspaper failed to pay off their debt to the company following Amirli’s detention, resulting in the indefinite suspension of Azadlig’s print edition.
For years Azerbaijan has been criticised for its dismal record on media freedom and repression of journalists, the media, and opposition figures by a number of international watchdogs, including Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety.