BAKU — Azerbaijani authorities have sentenced a prominent journalist to six years in jail after finding him guilty of spying for arch-enemy Armenia, in a case slammed by rights groups as politically motivated.

The court for serious crimes in the capital Baku “found Rauf Mirkadyrov guilty of high treason, namely of spying for Armenia, and sentenced him to six years in prison,” the journalist’s lawyer Fuad Agayev is quoted as telling AFP.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office had said Mirkadirov “was recruited by the Armenian secret services in 2008 and supplied Yerevan with information on Azerbaijan’s state secrets.”

Mirkadirov, 54, worked as a correspondent for the Russian-language newspaper “Zerkalo,” which is published in Azerbaijan. He had been based in Ankara for several years and published articles critical of both the Turkish and Azerbaijani leadership.

He was detained in Baku after he was deported from Turkey last year.

The prize-winning journalist’s arrest last year sparked widespread condemnation from international rights groups and the West.

Human Rights Watch has said Mirkadyrov was being “punished for his outspoken views” and that his prosecution sent “a chilling message to others that dissent will not be tolerated.”

Reporters Without Borders last week called it a “sham trial” and appealed for Mirkadyrov’s immediate release.

“This journalist is the latest victim of President Ilham Aliyev’s witch hunt against his regime’s critics,” the head of the media watchdog’s Eastern Europe desk Johann Bihr said.

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