Khadija Ismayilova: not free, but not silent

After 538 days in prison, Azeri investigative journalist Kahdija Ismayilova was freed, but is still facing a probation sentence and a travel ban. The legal actions against the journalists are widely seen as politically motivated. ECPMF supports her case.

Khadija Ismayilova Khadija Ismayilova (photo:Lisoynizami, Xədicə İsmayılova 1, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Khadija Ismayilova, renowned investigative journalist for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is an example for the global media freedom community. The journalist is known for her deep investigations covering corruption – and critical statements concerning Azerbaijan’s Presidential family. This resulted in massive repressions – and a seven and a half years long prison sentence. The Media Legal Defence Intiative (MLDI) called her case a “state-sponsored showtrial”. 

With 4000 euros, the ECPMF supported Khadija Ismayilova and her legal representatives from MLDI to fight against her unlawful arrest and stand strong for media freedom in Europe.

From December 2014 on, Khadija Ismayilova was in custody. In September 2015, she was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for charges including libel and tax evasion, embezzlement and of power. After more than one and a half year, on 25 May 2016, some of the convictions (on abuse of power and misappropriation) were reversed by the Supreme Court, thus leading to the release of Khadija Ismayilova.

However, the fight for justice and freedom of expression continues: In May, Khadija was not fully acquitted. The other convictions are still upheld and the journalist left the prison with a suspended sentence of three and a half years and a five-year travel ban, making it impossible for her to leave Azerbaijan.

On 8 August 2016, the Baku Court on Grave Crimes shortened Ismayilova’s suspended sentence from three and a half years to two years and three months. Against the journalist’s complaint, the decision not to lift her travel ban was upheld by the Baku Court of Appeal.

ECPMF continues to closely follow her case.

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ECPMF called upon the UNESCO to dismiss its Goodwill Ambassador Mehriban Aliyeva, the wife of Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan. Khadija Ismayilova is not the only journalists in the country which is facing severe threats. The ECPMF perceives Aliyeva’s position as UNESCO Goodwill ambassador contradictory to the organisation’s values – among them is freedom of expression. On World Press Freedom Day 2016, UNESCO awarded the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Khadija Ismayilova.