Azerbaijan: Leading Investigative Journalist ConvictedPublished: Sep 1, 2015 Reading time: 2 minutes
Prague, September 1st, 2015 - Khadija Ismayilova, an award-winning Azerbaijani investigative journalist and popular radio host with the Azerbaijani Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has been sentenced today to 7,5 years in prison. Ismayilova, held in pre-trial detention since December last year, was convicted on charges including abuse of office, incitement to suicide, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, and embezzlement.
“We condemn this verdict as based on politically-motivated charges aimed to punish the journalist for her brave work,” said Ivana Skalova, head of the East European Program at the Center for Human Rights and Democracy, People in Need.“We call for her immediate and unconditional release.”
Ms. Ismayilova, author of groundbreaking investigative reports that have revealed the secret business dealings of the ruling family and a well-known vocal critic of the government, has long been subject to state pressure. She faced blackmail, harassment, and continued slander campaigns as she dug deeper into corruption cases at the highest echelons of power.
Despite being repeatedly warned that she could be arrested on the wave of a crackdown against critical voices in Azerbaijan, Ms. Ismayilova refused to stay abroad and seek asylum in a third country.
On December 5, 2014, she was detained on charges of inciting her former colleague to attempt suicide. Although the man withdrew the accusations and confessed that the authorities had forced him to press false accusations against the journalist, the charge has never been dropped.
Moreover, in March 2015, Ms. Ismayilova, whose arrest was strongly condemned by the international community, was presented with a new set of accusations – embezzlement, illegal business activities, tax evasion, and abuse of power.
As she entered her sixth month of pre-trial detention, Ms. Ismayilova received the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in recognition of her courage and her exceptional investigative portfolio. This, however, did not stop the authorities from sentencing the journalist following a speedy trial widely described as a sham and lacking due process.
Ms. Ismayilova is yet another victim of Azerbaijan’s increasingly authoritarian handling of critical voices inside the country. With 80 political prisoners behind bars and a continued climate of fear, Azerbaijan is emerging as a regional leader in clamping dissent.
“It is nothing but a mockery of the European values its authorities claim to represent,” says Ivana Skalova. “In his upcoming visit to the country, President Milos Zeman must raise the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and demand their release.”
For more information, please contact:
Ivana Skalova, tel. +420 777 787 952, mail firstname.lastname@example.org