A court in Azerbaijan's capital has convicted a prominent rights defender and her husband on fraud charges, which international rights groups have denounced as sham.

The court in Baku on Thursday sentenced Leyla Yunus to 8½ years in prison on charges of fraud, tax evasion and illegal business activities. Her husband Arif Yunus was given a 7-year sentence on fraud charges, and the court also confiscated the couple's assets.

Both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Amnesty International has described them as prisoners of conscience and demanded their immediate release.

The couple, who have been in custody since their arrest a year ago, still face a future trial on charges of espionage for neighboring Armenia.

The government of oil-rich Azerbaijan has long faced international criticism of its human rights record.