Azerbaijan: Today Marks Six Months in Jail for Journalist Khadija Ismayilova
As Azerbaijan prepares to launch the billion-dollar spectacle of the European Games, today marks six months since investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was jailed.
Ismayilova was arrested last December on charges that she incited a colleague to attempt suicide, an accusation that has since been withdrawn by the complainant.
However she still faces that charge along with a litany of new charges, including tax evasion, running an illegal business, and abuse of power.
Ismayilova denies the allegations, calling them “ridiculous”. International human rights groups have said the case against her is politically motivated.
In the half-year since her arrest, Ismayilova has become a cause célèbre for investigative journalists around the world. Known for her fearless investigations of corruption at the highest level of politics in Azerbaijan, she was recently awarded the PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write Award and the Swedish National Press Club’s 2015 Freedom of Speech Award.
Upon her arrest, some of Ismayilova’s work remained unfinished. Her colleagues have now collaborated to launch The Khadija Project, “a series of hard-hitting stories continuing her work in defiance of her ongoing incarceration.” The first of these major investigations was released last week.
Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani government’s focus has been on the extravagant European Games which will be hosted in Baku this month. According to the BBC, the bill for hosting the sporting event is officially pegged at US$ 1.2 billion, but the true cost may be even higher.
The Games have drawn international attention on the small Caucasus nation, including increased scrutiny of its human rights record.
A spokesperson for the government of Azerbaijan addressed critics: “Exploiting the noble principles of sports for political purposes and, as such, using it for political propaganda and as a smear campaign against Azerbaijan is unacceptable.”
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, there is no clear end in sight for Ismayilova’s incarceration and no trial date has yet been set.
Her pre-trial detention was recently extended until August.