Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

Khadija Ismayilova’s Spirit is not Broken by Prison Sentence of 7.5 Years

Khadija Ismayilova,  a prominent Azerbaijani investigative journalist was found guilty of tax evasion, illegal business activity, and abuse of power, and was sentenced to7.5 years in prison.  She publicly spoke out in court against the accusations she was facing and stated that her trial has failed to bring her down or keep her from working.

Ismayilova claims the accusations against her are politically motivated  and are aimed to stop her investigations on corruption at governmental level, while her ‘express’ trial was based on testimonies taken under pressure and bribes.

 "I might be in prison, but the work will continue," she said, according to remarks obtained by RFE/RL. Ismayilova mentioned that she and like-minded independent journalists “expose corruption and lawlessness” and that “the work they do is very important”, however was not allowed to read her statement in full. Khadija also expressed her sentiment with regards to her situation: "We wrote, informed the community, even if the price for it was arrest and blackmail...I am still happy that I fulfilled my job," she said.

Her reports covered the Azerbaijani government’s transfer of a gold field to the presidential family, and the connection of the president’s two daughters to the largest mobilephone operator Azercell through offshore accounts. Ismayilova’s reporting have won her numerous awards, including PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, Anna Politkovskaya Award and Courage of Journalism Award by the International Women's Media Foundation., In her closing statement regarding the charges against her, Ismayilova pointed out the irony of the government accusing her of crimes such as tax evasion and embezzlement, which are the exact crimes she was reporting and investigating on. She kept her head high until the end, and mentioned her incarceration as an opportunity to expose the abuses which happen in prisons. She pointed out: "I am one of those people who knows how to turn a problem into an opportunity."

Ismayilova’s case is no exception in the dozens of government critics who have been targeted by the government in place. Despite repeated calls for release from the civil society and international community, the authorities continue persecuting journalists and human rights activists opposing the regime. The High Representative Federica Mogherini and ENP Commissioner Hahn, PACE President Anne Brasseur and US Department of State are among those who condemned the verdict. 

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