Politically motivated charges against Azerbaijani journalist upheld

The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan has upheld politically motivated charges against investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

The 2015 PEN Freedom to Write awardee was charged with tax evasion and embezzlement in 2014 and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in 2015, after what has been described as a sham trial.

Ismayilova was released on probation by the authorities in Azerbaijan in 2016 and granted a suspended sentence thanks to international pressure from activists and human rights organizations, but the government of Azerbaijan froze her bank accounts and prohibited her from leaving the country.

Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America, describes the latest ruling as part of a relentless campaign of harassment against Ismayilova.

She said, “For more than three years since her release from prison, Khadija has been subject to surveillance, a travel ban, financial restrictions, and other forms of harassment intended to intimidate her into silence. We call on authorities to drop these ridiculous charges and allow Khadija full freedom of movement and the ability to continue her work freely.”

Marc Behrendt, director for Europe at Freedom House, an independent watchdog that monitors freedom worldwide, added, “President Aliyev is not fooling anyone. This decision should be immediately overturned the charges should be dropped, the travel ban imposed on her should be lifted, and her bank accounts should be unfrozen.”

Ismayilova is an award-winning investigative journalist for Radio Azadliq, the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and a member of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting project.

She has been reporting on the unethical and questionable business dealings of the Azerbaijani ruling family since 2010, and was previously jailed for 583 days in early 2014 for her reporting on allegations of corruption within the family of President IIham Aliyev.

Azerbaijan is one of the world’s most repressive countries when it comes to freedom of expression, with 20 writers and activists currently detained or on trial, and others subjected to frequent threats, harassment and violence. The 2019 Freedom in the World 2019 listings gave the country a rating of “Not free”.

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