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Azerbaijan: Journalist on Trial

(Aug. 13, 2015) On August 7, 2015, the case of Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Azerbaijan, was brought to trial, eight months after she was arrested on accusations of tax evasion, abuse of power, and embezzlement. Ismayilova asserts that the charges are politically motivated, following her reporting on government corruption in the country. The court rejected defense motions by her attorney, Fariz Namazli, to have the tax charge dismissed and to allow Ismayilova to sit outside the glass cage she is in for the proceedings. (Taylor Gillan, Azerbaijan Begins Reporter’s Trial, PAPER CHASE (Aug. 8, 2015).) Namazli noted that the inspection related to the tax charge stopped in May and suggested that the court’s inclusion of that charge was “a sign of particular ill-will.” (Azerbaijani Journalist Ismayilova’s Trial Begins in Baku, RFE/RL (Aug. 7, 2015).)

The courtroom was filled to capacity with observers, largely diplomats, but all journalists, a number of activists, some other diplomats, and the defendant’s family members were required to remain outside the room. (Id.)


Ismayilova has written extensively on corruption in the family of President Ilham Aliyev. She is one of dozens of government critics, both activists and journalists, who have been arrested in what rights groups describe as repression of dissent. (Id.)

Amnesty International (AI) has called Ismayilova a prisoner of conscience and states that she is “an outspoken investigative journalist who had published extensively on corruption and human rights violations.” (Amnesty International Report 2014/15: Republic of Azerbaijan, AI website (last visited Aug. 10, 2015).)

She was detained in December 2014 on suspicion of involvement in the attempted suicide of a co-worker, Tural Mustafayev; the tax, embezzlement, and abuse of power charges were added later. Mustafayev was supposed to appear at a court proceeding on April 7, but did not attend. He stated at a court hearing in July that he had been pressured by law enforcement to defame Ismayilova. (Azerbaijani Journalist Ismayilova’s Trial Begins in Baku, supra.)

Reactions to the Case

In July, 16 U.S. Senators wrote to Azerbaijan’s President expressing their concern about human rights and the status of civil society in the country. They advocated the release of Ismayilova. A statement on the subject appeared in the Congressional Record. (Id.; Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, and Ethiopia, CONG. REC. S2027-2028 (Mar. 26, 2015).) The agency that oversees RFE/RL, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, has also contacted officials in Azerbaijan to protest Ismayilova’s prosecution. Nenad Pejic, the Editor-in-Chief of RFE/RL, called her detention “the latest attempt in a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.” (Azerbaijani Journalist Ismayilova’s Trial Begins in Baku, supra.)

AI discussed her case in a report outlining repression of free expression in the country. (Amnesty International Report 2014/15: Republic of Azerbaijan, supra.)