Photo Credit: Aziz Karimov
Azerbaijani investigative reporter pledges 10,000 euros to fund independent journalism for Nagorno Karabakh. Second prize winner Benjamin Best talked to ECPMF about the risks facing undercover reporters.
By Jane Whyatt
Investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, one of the winners of the 2020 Leipzig Award for Freedom and Future of the Media, provided by the Media Foundation of Sparkasse Leipzig, promised to use her prize money to support Azeri journalists. The ongoing war on Nagorno Karabakh has resulted in violations of press and media freedom and gruesome attacks on national and international teams reporting about the incidents.
Khadija Ismayilova referred to the fighting in her native land during her acceptance speech, which was relayed to the prize ceremony by videolink as she faces a travel ban after being released from prison. She stressed:
”In these tragic moments when civilians die on both sides, there is also hope that the rule of law and peace may come to the region and refugees can go back home.”
And she promised to save the 10,000 euros she has been awarded by the Media Foundation of the Sparkasse Leipzig, the founding organisation of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF). The funds will be used to support professional journalists observing the rebuilding of Nagorno Karabakh after the conflict ends. She commented:
“The first thing they will need is independent investigative reporters.”
This is not the first prize money that Khadija Ismailova has given away in order to support investigative journalism in her home country of Azerbaijan. In 2013 she was awarded the Global Shining Light Award and, with her co-awardees gave the prize money to imprisoned Azerbaijani editor Avaz Zeynalli. Khadija has been honoured, too, with the Allard Prize, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and the Alternative Nobel Prize.
Secret camera in the bedroom
International acclaim followed her imprisonment for alleged tax irregularities. She endured a campaign of intimidation aimed at scaring her into dropping the investigations of corruption allegations that she was working on with the Sarajevo-based Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty, based in Prague, Czechia. Khadija’s enemies even secretly used a hidden camera to film her in bed with her boyfriend and published it online in an attempt to discredit her.
When she was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail, the intrepid reporter defiantly remarked that it would give her a chance to investigate corruption inside the Azerbaijani prison system. She was freed after serving less than half of her sentence.