February 18, 2015 / 1:48 PM / 3 years ago

Azerbaijan extends detention of human rights activist held without trial

BAKU (Reuters) - An Azeri human rights activist held without trial since July had her detention extended for five months by a court in Baku on Wednesday, her lawyer said, a case critics decry as part of a government-led crackdown on dissent.

Leyla Yunus, the head of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy, has been detained on charges of treason, espionage and tax evasion.

Rights groups, including the one headed by Yunus, accuse the former Soviet country of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents. Baku denies the charges, saying its population enjoys freedom of speech and access to opposition press.

Several rights activists and journalists were sentenced to prison terms this year and last in Azerbaijan on charges including illegal business activity and hooliganism. Their lawyers have dismissed their trials as politically motivated.

Yunus’ lawyer Elchin Gambarov told Reuters an Azeri court had ordered her pre-trial detention lengthened by five months.

Gambarov said the ruling was “unfair” and that he would appeal.

Mainly Muslim Azerbaijan has been governed by President Ilham Aliyev since he succeeded his father in 2003 and has been courted by the West because of its role as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and natural gas to Europe.

Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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