Appeals court upholds Avaz Zeynalli’s prison sentence

Baku Appeals Court  upheld today a nine-year prison sentence for Khural newspaper editor-in-chief Avaz Zeynalli. One of the most outspoken critics of the regime, Zeynalli received the sentence in February  when he was convicted for tax evasion, extortion and bribery. 
Speaking at the trial, journalist Avaz Zeynalli called the charges filed against him unfounded and politically motivated. He asked for immediate acquittal and release.

Lawyer Elchin Sadigov substantiated his client’s demand, saying that none of the charges initiated against Avaz Zeynalli was proved by the court.

Filing counter-appeal against the journalist, the representative of the Ministry of Taxes required the appellate court to replace the initial tax fraud penalty (4,076 AZN) imposed on Khural by Grave Crimes Court with a new penalty of 7,000 AZN.

The public prosecutor requested to deny the journalist’s appeal and uphold the original ruling of Grave Crimes Court.

After a brief deliberation, the judge denied Zeynalli’s appeal.

Background: Avaz Zeynalli was arrested on October 28, 2011 following a lawsuit brought by former MP Gular Ahmadova. The Anti-Corruption Office launched a criminal case against Zeynalli under article 311.3.3 (taking a large bribe) and article 311.3.4 (extortion) of the Criminal Code. Zeynalli was later charged under article 306 (contempt of court) and article 213.1 (tax evasion). On 13 February 2013 the public prosecutor asked the court to sentence Zeynalli to 11 years in jail. On 12 March 2013 the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced the journalist to nine years in prison. 

A number of local and international human rights organizations strongly believe that the charges against Avaz Zeynalli are trumped-up and that he was arrested for his articles criticizing high-ranking state officials.   

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