OCCRP Named Winner of Prestigious Investigative Journalism Award

Published: 07 April 2016

Khadija Ismayilova in Baku studioKhadija Ismayilova in Baku studio

By Tom King


The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has been named the winner of the 2015 Tom Renner Award by Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. (IRE).

The award was presented for The Khadija Project, which continues the work of imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist and OCCRP partner, Khadija Ismayilova.

Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) and OCCRP, was sentenced in 2015 on what many believe to be politically motivated charges. She had exposed many examples of corruption among the ruling elites of Azerbaijan.

“This project has meant more to us than anything we published last year. We all live with a gnawing discomfort that one of our own sits in prison and it’s not fair,” said Drew Sullivan. “This award goes to Khadija and we won’t rest and we won’t stop reporting until she is released.”

When arrested in December 2014, Ismayilova made a specific request that her colleagues continue her work. 

The resulting project has been a collaboration between journalists and organizations from several different countries. Partners on the project include RFERL, Meydan TV, Sveriges Television, TT News Agency, the Investigative Reporting Center of Italy (IRPI) and Bellingcat.

Journalists from Azerbaijan are also actively involved but cannot be named due to the risk of ill-treatment, including the possible harassment or arrest of family members. They write under the pseudonym of their colleague, Ismayilova.

The IRE award - one of the most prestigious in journalism - is named for Tom Renner, a veteran investigative journalist on organized crime and corruption issues. Renner participated in IRE’s Arizona Project of 1976, when reporters collaborated to complete the work of Don Bolles, a reporter killed by a car bomb.

The judges’ comments noted the similarity, saying that OCCRP’s effort “honors the spirit of IRE’s Arizona Project in a powerful and uplifting way.”

As an organization, OCCRP had been a finalist for the award and individual OCCRP reporters have won the award as part of teams working under the International Consortium of Investigative Reporters (ICIJ). This is the first time OCCRP has won.