BAKU - A prominent Azerbaijani journalist has gone on trial for high treason, his lawyer said Thursday, condemning the charge as part of a government crackdown on critical media.

"The trial against Rauf Mirkadyrov started on Wednesday in closed session," the journalist's lawyer, Fuad Agayev told AFP. "My client rejects the charges, which are totally unfounded and politically motivated," the lawyer said.

He added that the judge had banned him from disclosing further information on the legal proceedings. If found guilty, the journalist faces up to life in jail. Mirkadyrov, 54, has been held in pre-trial detention since his arrest in April 2014 in Baku after he was deported from Turkey.

Prosecutors accuse him of high treason, claiming the secret services of Azerbaijan's arch-foe Armenia recruited him in 2008, and he supplied Yerevan with state secrets. The prize-winning journalist's arrest last year sparked widespread condemnation from international rights groups and the West.

Human Rights Watch said Mitkadyrov was being "punished for his outspoken views and that his prosecution sent "a chilling message to others that dissent will not be tolerated." Mirkadyrov is the politics correspondent for the independent Russian-language newspaper Zerkalo, or Mirror, which is published in Azerbaijan.

He had been based in Ankara for several years and published articles critical of both the Turkish and Azerbaijani leadership. In 2008, he was awarded the Gerd Bucerius "Free Press of Eastern Europe" international prize "for achievements in the development of independent media."

Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a protracted conflict over Azerbaijan's disputed Nagorny Karabakh region. In the 1990s the two countries fought a bloody war for control of the region and despite years of negotiation since a 1994 ceasefire, a peace deal is yet to be signed. Oil-rich Azerbaijan, a tightly controlled former Soviet country, is criticised by rights organisations for attacks on free speech under its strongman President Ilham Aliyev. Reporters Without Borders ranked Azerbaijan 160th out of 180 countries in its 2015 World Press Freedom Index