Azerbaijan Arrests Prominent Opposition Leader


Azerbaijan has arrested a prominent opposition leader on charges of inciting racial and religious hatred that risk up to five years in prison, his party said on Wednesday.

Fuad Gahramanly, deputy chairman of the Popular Front, was arrested Tuesday night and "accused of inciting racial and religious hatred with the use and threat of violence," party chairman Ali Karimly told AFP.

"The charges are trumped-up," Karimly said.

"Gahramanly is a relentless fighter for democracy in Azerbaijan, that's what he is being punished for."

He faces up to five years in prison, the party said.

Dissent in tightly-controlled Azerbaijan is met with a tough government response.

Rights groups say the government in the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic has stepped up pressure on opponents since strongman President Ilham Aliyev's re-election to a third term in 2013.

Freedom House, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, says there are now more than 80 political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

Aliyev, 53, strongly denies accusations of rights abuses.

He took over in 2003 after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled newly independent Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993.

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