BAKU (AP)–A newspaper editor and his colleague in Azerbaijan were convicted of treason Tuesday and sentenced to prison.
Novruzali Mammadov, the editor of Talysh Sado, or Voice of the Talysh, was arrested in February 2007 together with the paper’s administrator, Elman Guliyev.
Mammadov was sentenced to 10 years in prison, while Guliyev was sentenced to six years imprisonment.
The editor’s lawyer, Ramiz Mammadov, said his client was innocent of treason and will appeal.
Prosecutors accused the two of Talysh nationalism and undermining Azerbaijan’s statehood. The Talysh live in the south of the former Soviet republic and have close cultural ties to neighboring Iran.
Guliyev acknowledged in court that the paper had received $1,000 per month from Talysh organizations in Iran.
The government of oil-rich Azerbaijan has faced persistent criticism over heavy-handed treatment of independent media and opposition parties.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a rights group, passed a resolution Tuesday expressing concern at what it called the deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan ahead of the presidential election in October.
The resolution condemned restrictions on freedom of expression – including harassment and intimidation of opposition journalists – and limits on freedom of assembly and association.
Last week, three minority groups in several regions of Azerbaijan warned that they faced the threat of their total annihilation and deportation by Azerbaijan’s Government.
The statement, which was issued by the Dagestani-speaking nations of Azerbaijan, explained that Azerbaijan’s independence came at the expense of Azerbaijan’s aborigines, the Lezgins, Avars, and Tsakhurs.
"Understanding that the aborigine nations did not wish to live in a foreign state, Azerbaijan prevented the conduction of a referendum and suppressed our leaders, using all kinds of state terrorism against our nations,” the statement read.
According to the letter, Azerbaijan has occupied the lands of these three groups and encroached on their rights twice during the twentieth century–once in 1918 and then again in 1991.
During Azerbaijan’s war of aggression against Karabakh, the statement said, tens of thousands of young men from these three aborigine nations were forcibly sent to the front lines to fight, while Azerbaijan continued its policies of repression.
“As a continuation of the cleansing;our intellectuals are arrested during regular police operations,” said the statement.
The letter called on the international community to take immediate action to prevent the ongoing crimes and to initiate the formation of an autonomous region for Lezgins, Avars and Tsakhurs.
The statement also warned that the international communities indifference to their problems will lead to unforeseeable consequences for the entire Caucasus region.