BAKU (Reuters) - An Azeri court on Tuesday sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail a prominent journalist known for exposing corruption among the ruling elite in a case critics say is political.
Human rights group Amnesty International says Khadija Ismayilova, who works for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is a prisoner of conscience and that charges against her were trumped up to stop her corruption investigations.
A Baku court found Ismayilova guilty of embezzlement, illegal business activities, tax evasion and abuse of her position.
State prosecutors were seeking nine years in jail for Ismayilova, 39, who has investigated government corruption, business dealings of the president and his family and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan
"We disagree with the verdict and plan to appeal it. The sentencing is not justified and has been pre-ordered," Ismayilova defense lawyer Fariz Khamazly told Reuters.
Rights advocates accuse veteran Azeri President Ilham Aliyev of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents, charges Baku denies.
Despite the criticism, the West has courted the former Soviet republic as an alternative to Russia as a supplier of oil and gas.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)