1 September 2015
In reaction to the news that leading Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for embezzlement and tax evasion, Marian Botsford Fraser, the Chair of PEN International’s the Writers in Prison Committee said:
‘Khadija Islayimova has dedicated her journalistic career to uncovering corruption in Azerbaijan. Her imprisonment demonstrates the government’s disturbing trend towards stifling free speech. We urge Azerbaijani authorities to respect freedom of expression and release her immediately and unconditionally.’
Khadija Ismayilova is an investigative journalist, a radio host for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, and is well known – both within Azerbaijan and internationally – for her exposures of high level corruption and for her criticism of the Azerbaijani government’s crackdown on opposition voices. Because of her work, she has been the target of a relentless campaign of intimidation and judicial harassment over the last two years. Ismayilova was arrested on 5 December 2014, on suspicion of inciting another journalist’s attempted suicide. In October last year, on returning home from a meeting with Council of Europe officials in Strasbourg, she was detained for several hours at Baku airport; in February of the same year she was called several times as a witness in an investigation into the leaking of state secrets; in April 2013, videos secretly recorded in the journalist’s apartment were posted online; in March 2012, following her investigation into President Aliyev’s family’s alleged interests in lucrative construction projects in Baku ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest, she received anonymous threats and warnings to stop her investigation: when she refused, an explicit video (allegedly depicting her) was posted online. PEN believes Ismayilova’s imprisonment is politically-motivated response to her work exposing corruption at the highest levels of Azerbaijani society.