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Azeri Leader Pardons 87 Prisoners, Including Iran TV Reporter

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev pardoned 87 prisoners, including a correspondent with Iranian state-run television who was jailed in June on drug charges.

Anar Bayramli, who worked for Sahar 2 TV and also for Iran’s Fars news agency, was sentenced to two years in prison after authorities said he was found in possession of heroin. He rejected the charges, saying they were trumped up.

Sahar 2 TV’s Azeri-language programs, beamed into Azerbaijan from neighboring Iran, often criticize the Aliyev government’s secular policies and its close ties to Israel and the West.

The pardoned prisoners, whose names were published today in state-run daily Azarbaycan, included four people imprisoned for protesting a ban on Islamic-style head scarves in schools. Religious activists have held several rallies in the capital, Baku, since the government introduced the ban in 2009. Azeri officials accused Iran of sparking the protests.

Most of Azerbaijan’s 9 million people share Iran’s Shiite Muslim religion, while a quarter of Iranians are ethnic Azeri.

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