BAKU, Azerbaijan, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Khadija Ismayilova, prominent Azebaijani investigative journalist, received a jail sentence in Baku over fraud charges she says are politically motivated.
Ismayilova, 39, is regarded as an anti-corruption campaigner in Azerbaijan. The 2012 recipient of the International Women's Media Foundation's "Courage in Journalism" award, she has regularly reported on government corruption, including massive and illegally obtained wealth allegedly amassed by President Ilham Aliyev and his relatives.
She was convicted Tuesday of embezzlement, tax evasion, illegal business activity and abuse of power. The Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced her to seven and one-half years in prison.
Ismayilova was detained in December 2014 and has been held in jail since. She said her arrest was an attempt to quiet her reports on corruption.
In her final court appearance Monday, Ismayilova said prosecutors "had resorted to more and more lies and fakery. They won't be able to force me to stay silent, even if they sentence me to 15 or 25 years."
Her lawyer, Fariz Namazly, called the verdict illegal; an appeal is planned. Her supporters say the charges were fabricated by a government eager to stifle one of the few voices of independent criticism in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic. Two prominent human rights activists in Azerbaijan were jailed in August in another case many considered politically motivated.
The trial and convictions were assailed by the U.S. State Department, the United Kingdom's Minister of State for Europe, the European Union and other international groups, but Hikmet Hajiyev, spokesman for Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry, commented Wednesday, "Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stated that the independence of the judicial authority and the rule of law are completely secured in the country. The court's decision should be respected."