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Baku - A Harvard-educated political activist was freed from jail on Monday after Azerbaijan's Supreme Court granted his request for early release, days before a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was jailed last year for evading the South Caucasus nation's mandatory military draft, a charge he said was politically motivated, and had about nine months left of his two-year sentence.
The court gave no specific reason for the release order.
The 30-year-old was one of the organisers of a nationwide anti-government protest in March which was quashed by the authorities.
“My arrest was politically motivated and my release should be politically motivated too,” Hajiyev told journalists after his release.
The activist, who studied at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and returned to Azerbaijan from the United States in 2010, said he had written a letter to President Ilham Aliyev from jail saying his conviction was unjust.
Last year, Hajiyev's mother wrote a letter to Clinton asking for help in freeing her son from prison, where he suffered health problems.
Clinton will travel to Azerbaijan on Wednesday as part of a tour of the South Caucasus, which also includes visits to Armenia and Georgia.
Opposition politicians and rights groups had said Hajiyev's imprisonment highlighted shrinking freedoms under Aliyev, who succeeded his long-serving father as president in 2003.
Critics accuse Aliyev's government of trampling on democracy under the cover of an oil-fuelled economic boom in the former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea.
Azerbaijan is an energy supplier to Europe and a transit route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan - a role rights groups say has cushioned the country from Western criticism.
The country's human rights record was in the spotlight last month when it hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, watched by a TV audience of 100 million. It was won by Loreen, a Swedish singer who angered Azeri authorities by meeting rights activists. - Reuters