Update – September 1, 2015
According to news reports, Ismayilova was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison today.
August 20, 2015 – The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) is deeply concerned about the trial of 2012 Courage in Journalism Award Winner, Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.
After a month-long trial where journalists and independent observers were barred from the courtroom, prosecutors concluded their case against Ismayilova today and are planning to present their sentencing request on Friday, according to latest news reports. If convicted, Ismayilova could face up to 17 years in prison.
Ismayilova, one of Azerbaijan’s most prominent investigative reporters, was originally arrested on December 5, 2014, on charges of ‘inciting a man to commit suicide’. Subsequently, several new charges were brought against her, including embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of power. Her pre-trial detention was extended numerous times, totaling more than 7 months.
Ismayilova has rejected the charges as politically motivated. Just prior to her arrest in December, Ramiz Mehdiyev, Chief of Staff to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, had issued a statement accusing Ismayilova of “defiance” and displaying a “destructive attitude toward well-known members of the Azerbaijani community” which “pleases [her] patrons abroad.”
Until her arrest, Ismayilova worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Baku. Her investigations into the business interests of the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev have repeatedly made her a target of harassment, including questionable legal proceedings and blackmail.
For her refusal to submit to the will of those seeking to silence her, she was awarded the IWMF Courage in Journalism Award in 2012.
“It seems clear that the charges brought against Ismayilova are politically motivated retaliation for her investigative reporting”, says Elisa Lees Muñoz, Executive Director of the IWMF. “We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to respect the principles of press freedom and find Ismayilova not guilty of all charges.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Azerbaijan is the leading jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia, currently holding at least seven other journalists in jail in relation to their work.