Sat Oct 8, 2011 7:18PM GMT
A state court in the Republic of Azerbaijan has sentenced several pro-Islamic Hijab activists to long prison terms on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.
Baku's Court for Serious Crimes handed heavy jail sentences to the Head of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (AIP) Movsum Samadov and six other members of the organization on Friday after charging them with subversion, IRIB reported.
Samadov was sentenced to 12 years in jail while Ruhullah Akhundzada, the head of the party's branch in Astara, south Azerbaijan, received a prison sentence of 11 years and six months. Similarly, Deputy Chairman of the AIP Vaqif Abdullayev and party member Seyyed Feramarz Abbasov have been condemned to 11 years in jail.
Firdovsi Mammadrizayev and Dayanat Samadov, less senior party members, were given 10-year prison terms, while Hojjatoleslam Zulfiqar Mikailzada, a religious activist received a five-year sentence.
The Azeri party members were detained in January after protesting against the government-imposed ban on Hijab in the country's secondary and high schools.
Many civil society activists have slammed the Azeri government for bringing trumped-up charges against AIP members such as trying to organize terrorist acts, possessing illegal weapons, and attempting to subvert the state and seize power unlawfully.
"All charges against members of our party have no grounds. We appeal to the government to stop ordered repressions," the party said in a statement.
As the verdicts were announced, police forces moved to scatter dozens of AIP supporters and the relatives of the defendants who had convened outside the court, wounding some and detaining at least 15 others.
In January, Baku attempted to undermine the pro-hijab movement in the former Soviet republic by incarcerating Muslim activists.
Hundreds of people have joined protests against the state-sponsored prohibition of wearing Islamic headscarves in schools since the Azeri Education Minister Misir Mardanov announced the controversial ban in December 2010.
Around 98 percent of Azerbaijan's nearly 9 million population is Muslim. The government under President Ilham Aliyev is strictly secular and has close relations with the West.