BAKU(AFP) — Azerbaijan on Thursday released a prominent opposition journalist who was imprisoned for spying for arch-enemy Armenia in what his supporters say was a politically motivated case.
The appeals court in the capital Baku handed Rauf Mirkadyrov a “suspended sentence of five years after throwing out the initial six-year jail term,” his lawyer Fuad Agayev told AFP.
“I am innocent and will be fighting for my full acquittal,” Mirkadyrov told journalists after his release.
Mirkadyrov, 55, was arrested in April 2014 in Baku after being deported from Turkey. In December 2015, he was accused of spying for Armenia and found guilty of high treason.
Prosecutors had claimed that Armenia’s secret services recruited him in 2008, and he released state secrets to Yerevan.
The prize-winning journalist’s arrest sparked widespread condemnation from international rights groups and the West.
Human Rights Watch had said Mirkadyrov was being “punished for his outspoken views” and that his prosecution sent “a chilling message to others that dissent will not be tolerated.”
Reporters Without Borders has called his prosecution a “sham trial.”
Mirkadyrov is a political correspondent for the independent Russian-language newspaper Zerkalo, (Mirror), which is published in Azerbaijan.
He had been based in Ankara for several years and published articles critical of both the Turkish and Azerbaijani leadership.