Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova declared her innocence at a pre-trial hearing, calling the charges against her poltically motivated.
Ismayilova, who has reported on corruption allegations involving the family of President Ilham Aliyev, is accused of embezzlement, tax evasion and abuse of power. Detained since December 2014, Ismayilova was originally charged with “incitement to suicide”, though that charge was later dropped.
The court barred members of the public, journalists, political figures and foreign diplomats, who had come to observe the proceedings, from entering the courtroom, Contact.az and Radio Free Europe reported.
Ismayilova’s trial was set to begin on 7 August.
“The decision to bar access to the public on the first day of Khadija’s trial underscores the capricious manner in which the government of President Ilham Aliyev is ruling Azerbaijan. Her’s is not the first spurious case aimed squarely at stifling critical voices in civil society. It’s vital that court officials hold the trial in a transparent manner”, Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship said.
In the past year major figures in Azerbaijan’s civil society have been silenced through pre-trial detentions and multi-year prison sentences.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the pre-trial hearing was part of the trial.