Jailed dissident criticizes Azerbaijan

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) A journalist jailed in Azerbaijan has criticized the country for corruption and human rights violations on the day the first European Games get underway in the capital, Baku.

Khadija Ismayilova was imprisoned last year after investigating corruption allegedly involving President Ilham Aliyev. Activists say the jailing was part of a wider crackdown on opposition ahead of the games, the continent's version of the Olympics.

''The truth is that Azerbaijan is in the midst of a human rights crisis. Things have never been worse,'' says Ismayilova's letter, released Thursday by the PEN organization. ''As those at the top continue to profit from corruption, ordinary people are struggling to work, struggling to live, struggling for freedom.''

The organization said her letter was smuggled from prison in pieces.

''I am carrying on my struggle here, from jail. My investigations into corruption continue, thanks to the help of dedicated colleagues,'' wrote Ismayilova, who worked for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. ''I have been punished for speaking out from jail, placed into solitary confinement, and prevented from seeing my family and lawyers.''

Ismayilova was convicted of libel and accused of tax evasion and inciting a colleague to commit suicide. The cases have been dismissed by critics as an attempt to intimidate independent journalists.

Protests against Azerbaijan's human rights record took place in cities around the world Friday in the hours leading up to the opening ceremony for the European Games, the largest sports event ever held in the country.

In the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, where demonstrations against the government are subject to numerous restrictions, opposition groups did not announce any protests ahead of the opening ceremony.

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