Azerbaijani opposition politician Gozal Bayramli was sentenced to 3 years in prison by an Azerbaijani court on 23 January. Bayramli was detained at the border last May while crossing from Georgia, and charged with attempting to smuggle €12,000 ($13,400) in cash.
The Gazakh District Court, near the border with Georgia in western Azerbaijan, found Bayramli guilty of ‘importing contraband’. Bayramli insists the case against her is politically motivated.
The authorities claimed Bayramli tried to cross the border from Georgia without declaring money she was carrying. But Bayramli maintained her innocence, claiming the money was planted in her bag, RFE/RL reported.
[Read on OC Media: Baku Court denies appeal from jailed opposition politician]
Bayramli, who is Deputy Chairperson of the opposition Popular Front Party, was detained on 26 May, three days before Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was abducted from Tbilisi and detained at the border. Mukhtarli was also charged with smuggling money across the border.
Mukhtarli was sentenced on 12 January to 6 years in prison.
[Read on OC Media: Azerbaijan under fire over sentencing of abducted journalist Mukhtarli]
The arrests followed the publication a number of articles from Eynulla Fatullayev, editor-in-chief of news site Haqqin.az, condemning Azerbaijanis in exile. Haqqin.az often takes a pro-government line, and it has been speculated by some that the site is controlled by the government’s Chief of Intelligence.
Several pieces published on the website claimed that opposition figures and journalists in exile in Georgia were planning to overthrow President Aliyev. The publications included the names of a number of anti-government figures, including Mukhtarli.
According to RFE/RL, a number of Popular Front members have been arrested, with some imprisoned over the past few years. Supporters and international rights groups have labelled charges against them politically motivated. Party head Ali Karimli has also come under intense criticism from government-controlled media.
Caucasian Knot quoted Bayramli’s lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, as saying his client is ‘another innocent victim who has fallen into the mill of a repressive machine’.
His sentencing comes days after international rights groups Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Freedom House released their annual reports on human rights throughout the world, with both laying criticism at Azerbaijan for persecuting opposition figures.
HRW said that during their continuing crackdown on independent voices, Azerbaijani authorities convicted at least 25 journalists and political activists last tear, while dozens more were detained or are under criminal investigation, face harassment and travel bans, or have fled.