PtG Article 02.09.2015

Azeri journalist jailed after alleging government corruption

The Azeri journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who has been reporting about alleged corruption in the Azeri elite, has been sentenced to seven years and six months in prison.

On Tuesday, 1st September, a court in Baku, Azerbaijan, sentenced investigative journalist Khadija Izmayilova to seven years and six month in prison on charges of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of office. 

The verdict is widely accused of being politically motivated due to her reporting, which has been centered around alleged corruption in the Azeri government,president Ilhan Aliyev and his family. 

Several organisations have condemned the sentencing of Ismayilova and have called for the international community to cool off relations with Azerbaijan until Ismayilova is free.

“We condemn today’s verdict in the case of Khadija Ismayilova, which puts an outrageous yet expected ending to the grotesque proceedings against her,” said Nina Ognianova, program coordinator for Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Europe and Central Asia, in a statement supported by human rights, freedom of speech and journalist organisations.

“The time for business as usual with Azerbaijan is over. We call on Baku’s counterparts in the international community to make no further dealings with this highly repressive state until Ismayilova is unconditionally released and fully acquitted of all fabricated accusations,” Ogianova says.

According to Nenad Pejic, editor-in-chief of Radio Free Europe, Ismayilova’s verdict was an attempt to silence the journalist.

“Khadija’s case is an example of politics, not law. There was no merit, ever, to any of the charges against her and there was no due process during her trial. The authorities simply decided to silence her at any price,” said Pejic, according to BuzzFeed.

In her final statement to the court, Ismayilova said that the trial had not made her give up on her promise to expose wrongdoing in her country’s elite. 

“I will build homes from the stones thrown at me,” she said. “Yes, I might be in prison, but the work will continue. Because the work we do is very important.”

Ismayilova has been in jail since the beginning of the year, waiting for her case to be tried. While imprisoned, she has bylined a series of articles about the powerful Aliyev family and their financial transactions that have been published through a cooperation with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Many of the articles on the website use Ismayilova’s byline but are in fact written by Azeri journalists afraid to use their own names because of the Azeri government’s strong stance on journalism critical of the government.

Read more about Ismayilova’s reporting about the Aliyevs and the FreeKhadija campaign set up by the OCCRP.

The state of journalism in sport, in particular investigative journalism into the connections between sport, crime and political power is one of the main themes at Play the Game 2015 and therefore Ismayilova has been invited to give a speech. Most likely, she will not be able to, but OCCP reporter David Bloss will be at the conference and talk about the OCCP and the Khadija Project.