Today, the European Union condemned heavy sentences handed down to political activists by a court in Azerbaijan.
Catherine Ashton, The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Štefan Füle, The European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, issued the following statement today on the sentencing of Ilgar Mammadov and Tofiq Yaqublu on charges of staging riots in Ismayili, Azerbaijan:
"The High Representative and the Commissioner have learned with concern that opposition politicians Ilgar Mammadov and Tofiq Yaqublu have been sentenced to long terms in prison by the Court in Sheki Azerbaijan, despite serious misgivings on the part of the international community over the fairness of their trials.
The High Representative and Commissioner note with regret that the verdicts against Mr Mammadov and Mr Yaqublu appear politically motivated, contrary to Azerbaijan's international commitments as a member of the Council of Europe. The High Representative and Commissioner call upon Azerbaijan to do more to ensure the independence of the judiciary, in keeping with their responsibility as upcoming chair of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers."
A court in the northern city of Shaki on March 17 sentenced Ilgar Mammadov, head of the Republican Alternative movement, to seven years in prison, and Tofiq Yaqublu, deputy head of the Musavat (Equality) Party, to five years.
Eight other defendants received jail terms of between 2 1/2 and eight years.Another eight defendants received suspended sentences and were released from custody.
The U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan criticized the verdicts as "not based on the evidence" and "politically motivated."