"Europe shouldn’t be two faced" – Khadija campaigners keep up pressure on Aliyev regime

by Miranda Patrucic, Jane Whyatt and Michelle Trimborn
Award-winning investigative journalist Miranda Patrucic is calling on media freedom campaigners to keep up the pressure on the government of Azerbaijan, following the release from jail of her colleague Khadija Ismayilova.

OCCRP Beyond Khadija- Journalists, Bloggers and Scores of Dissidents Remain in Azerbaijani Jails Following Ismayilova’s Release 2016-06-10 (Screenshot: OCCRP)

Patrucic works closely with Khadija and other colleagues at the OCCRP, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. While Khadija was behind bars, Miranda Patrucic worked on the Azeri connections in the Panama Papers offshore banking leak. She flew from Kiev to Mechelen in Belgium to urge the three hundred participants at the Dataharvest conference not to be fooled by the regime’s gesture in freeing Khadija.

The day Khadija was released, two other people were arrested. Europe shouldn’t be two-faced and agree to one set of freedoms for their people and a completely different set of standards for other countries. It should be consistent”,

said Kaducic.

Miranda-Patrucic Miranda Patrucic

Even though Khadija Ismayilova has been released from prison, she cannot be perceived as free. Patrucic pointed out that although her colleague was released after serving only one and a half years for a seven-year jail sentence, she still faces, among other things, a five-year travel ban. This means that she is not able to leave Baku and thus, for example, cannot travel for investigations or to meet her colleagues from OCCRP. She also faces a ban on holding any official position: it is not clear what this means as an official position could be any professional post, such as an editor.

ECPMF calls for political pressure on Azeri government

Also the ECPMF warns not to overestimate the release as a positive sign for a sudden turn towards media freedom in Azerbaijan – and called upon the German government to take action on 7 June, when Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev came to Germany on an official visit to meet the Chancellor Angela Merkel for bilateral talks.

Angela Merkel cannot ignore the human rights violations in Azerbaijan. The German government needs to take a strong stand position for the release from jail of imprisoned independent journalists and other political prisoners”,

comments Henrik Kaufholz, Chair of the ECPMF.

“The politically motivated accusations against Khadija Ismayilova and others need to be dropped immediately. To credibly maintain Germany’s position as guardian of European values and human rights, it is the federal government which needs to demand these actions from Aliyev.”

UNESCO’s contradiction

And the ECPMF calls for recognition of the wrongdoing of Azerbaijan’s First Family in another issue: the Centre repeatedly called upon the UNESCO to have Azerbaijan’s First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva stripped of her title as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador title – on the grounds that it is incompatible with her status in a regime that persecutes journalists. The UNESCO is an organisation that, among other things, strongly advocates for media freedom and a free access to information. The organisation awarded this year’s Guillermo-Cano-Prize for press freedom to Khadija Ismayilova – a move that seems very contradictory to the cooperation with the Aliyev-family.

Patrucic strongly supports ECPMF’s campaign: “The only thing these people want is to be recognized. They want people to think: “She’s a Goodwill Ambassador, she’s a good person.” And calling them for who they are  is what needs to be done. Because why would they change anything if they can be recognised as stars, as good people?”