MEDIA
06/12/2012 12:55 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2012

Iranian Journalist Anar Bayramli Jailed By Azerbaijan On Drugs Charge

BAKU, June 12 (Reuters) - A court in Azerbaijan sentenced an Iranian journalist to two years in prison for drug possession on Tuesday in a case that his family says is politically motivated.

Anar Bayramli, 31, a reporter for Iran's Sahar TV and the Fars news agency, was arrested in February 2012 after police found him in possession of a small amount of heroin.

His brother Eldar Baylami told reporters the drugs had been planted. Shortly before the arrest, the speaker of Azerbaijan's parliament suggested Sahar TV was "preparing anti-Azerbaijan provocations" but gave no details.

The Iranian authorities did not immediately react to the sentence, which was announced by a court spokesman.

Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan have risen this year, with each side accusing the other of meddling in its affairs.

Iran has accused Azerbaijan of assisting Israel in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, but Baku has denied this. Azerbaijan has arrested dozens of people this year on suspicion of links to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and of plotting attacks, including on the Israeli ambassador to Baku.

Iran withdrew its ambassador from Baku last month after clerics criticised Azerbaijan for hosting an annual pan-European song contest.

About 15 percent of Iranians are ethnic Azeris and there are strong linguistic and family cross-border ties. Each side fears the other will gain influence over its population. (Reporting by Lada Evgrashina; writing by Margarita Antidze; editing by Diana Abdallah)