Thursday, September 3, 2015
Free Press Unlimited is deeply saddened and concerned about Khadija Ismayilova's 7.5 years sentence in Azerbaijan earlier this week, though this is not coming unexpected. The Azeribaijani government's crackdown on independent journalism and critical voices has already affected many of our colleagues.

Award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who works for Meedan TV, Radio Free Europe and OCCRP, was jailed at a closed trial in Baku for seven and a half years under trumped-up charges of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of power.

“We urge the international community to call for Khadija Ismailova's immediate release and to put pressure on Azerbaijan to respect the work of independent journalists and to meet its international commitments to freedom of expression.“ Says Leon Willems – Director of Free Press Unlimited.

In court, Khadija Ismayilova said the case against her is politically motivated and intended to end her investigations into corruption at the highest levels of government. “I might be in prison, but the work will continue,” she said. Ismayilova’s statement to the court further described the government of President Ilham Aliyev as a “repression machine” and denounced what she called “the presidential family’s stolen money stored in offshore accounts, their abuse of state deals and contracts with offshore companies and groups, and of evading taxes”. She also voiced confidence that “real journalists and mindful citizens” would continue denouncing high-level corruption in the oil-producing former Soviet republic.

Ismayilova said in in her statement: ”she and like-minded independent journalists did important work to “expose corruption and lawlessness”.

“We wrote, informed the community, even if the price for it was arrest and blackmail ... I am still happy that I fulfilled my job,” she said.

The court did not allow Ismayilova to read her statement in full. According to Leon Willems: “The government in Azerbaijan is becoming more and more a fundamental threat to Human Rights and Freedom of Expression, and has embarked on a course that has made due legal process a mockery. Azerbaijan now is in indeed dangerous for anyone who dares to publicly raise a critical voice.”

Several other journalists and activists have been imprisoned in Azerbaijan in what has been widely seen as an effort to stifle dissent. The recent murder of journalist Rasim Aliyev has taken place in a climate of increasing intimidation and total lack of respect for the work of independent journalists and activists.

Ismayilova, 39, is among the most prominent of dozens of activists, journalists, and government critics who have been targeted in what rights groups say is a persistent clampdown on dissent by Aliyev’s government.

Since her arrest in December, Ismayilova has been kept in pre-trial detention despite repeated calls by the United States and other western governments for her release.

Only some representatives of foreign embassies have been able to attend Ismayilova’s trial, which began on August 7, 2015. Independent journalists and activists have been barred throughout the proceedings.

photo: The Guardian