Azerbaijani journalist sentenced to nine years in jail

A policeman facing down protesters in Azerbaijan Protests have grown in recent months

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The editor of the independent Khural daily in Azerbaijan has been jailed for nine years on extortion charges.

Avaz Zeynally was accused of demanding money from a member of the ruling party in return for not publishing compromising information.

But he denies the charges and says the government is taking revenge for his newspaper's criticism of senior officials.

Human rights groups have condemned the decision to jail him.

Mr Zeynally was detained after the politician from the New Azerbaijan Party made her accusation against him in 2011. However, she was herself later charged with fraud after a video emerged purporting to show her selling a seat in parliament for a million dollars.

Mr Zeynally has already spent 16 months in detention awaiting trial. Supporters outside the courthouse in Baku shouted "freedom" as the verdict was announced.

'Intimidation'

President Ilham Aliyev has been condemned by international human rights groups for restricting freedom of speech, though his government says there is full freedom of expression and a lively opposition media.

Human rights activists say that the imprisonment of Mr Zeynalli is an attempt by the authorities to intimidate journalists and stamp out any criticism of the government in the run-up to presidential elections in October.

Over the last few months Azerbaijan has seen an unusually high number of anti-government protests with growing criticism of alleged corruption within the ruling party.

Journalists and politicians have called on Mr Aliyev to free Mr Zeynalli, saying he is being wrongly punished for his newspaper's critical reporting.

Another journalist from Khural was jailed for three years in 2011 after publishing a story critical of a Muslim religious leader with close links to Mr Aliyev's government.

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