Khadija Ismayilova: Prison is Not the End of Life

Democracy is America’s most powerful weapon for world respect and emulation. How we deal with this crucial situation will determine our moral health as a nation and our prestige as a leader of the free world.

Martin Luther King was describing the urgency of democratization in America by its need to become a strong world power. Maybe it was naive to suggest that democracy would sound more convincing than weapons in this crazy world. Yet here we are in a situation where, after one authoritarian regime in Ukraine was toppled, America tries to overpower another dictatorship in the region–Russia–with the help of small satellite dictatorships like Azerbaijan.

The world is no longer naive enough to turn a blind eye to such playing with moral values. So it is time for arms to speak, and oil and gas to lubricate the machine.

The corrupt Azerbaijani regime is well prepared to gain from this game. President Aliyev in his visit to Bulgaria declared that Azerbaijan seems to be the only alternative as supplier of gas to Europe in the foreseeable future. He wisely did not mention that his country’s role is to provide an alternative to Russian supplies. No words of enmity towards Russia–who supported the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia–has ever been voiced by Aliyev. He is trying to gain, without losing the friendship of the Moscow regime, the patron of all post-Soviet dictatorships.

All repressive actions by the Azerbaijani regime have been copied from Russia. Outlawing the NGOs, starting tax prosecutions on non-existing legal basis, arresting, beating, killing and blackmailing with sex tapes human rights activists and journos. All came from Putin’s malpractice., well-learned and implemented.

And now this sister regime of Putin’s (stands ready to) gain from the crisis in Ukraine. Here is the game:

  1. Message: Start protesting for European values and democratization and you will lose your land.
  2. Again, no word of condemnation of Russia as occupant is uttered by the Azerbaijani regime and its propaganda. Azerbaijan’s MPs vote against suspension of Russia’s voting rights in Council of Europe. The Aliyev regime declares support for Ukrainian territorial integrity, but avoids the subject of who is guilty.
  3. While there is a boycott of Russia, the Aliyevs are ready to offer oil and gas to desperate European suppliers. This brings more money, not only to the Azerbaijani budget that is going through its own crisis due to declining oil prices, but also to the personal budget of the corrupt Aliyev regime.
  4. And when Azerbaijan becomes an indispensible energy partner, the world is ready to forget about its lack of democracy, political prisoners, human rights issues, etc.

When the regime is visited by European and American officials, no criticism or even a call to release political prisoners had been made (at least publicly) during these visits. No matter that the targeted groups, the NGOs that were shut down, the activists arrested, were all linked to EU and US organizations.

There was no public mention of RFE/RL shutdown and prosecution during (US Assistant Secretary of State) Victoria Nuland’s visit. She praised the fake dialogue show of Aliyev’s with pocket opposition, while the regime put forward another set of accusations against RFE radio and me.

I didn’t become a journalist because of America, but US-funded projects helped me to learn how to become a good journalist, to uncover corruption, and to tell the truth. Organizations funded by the EU and US organizations organized trainings and I do have expectations from democratic institutions and countries.

I still do. Their inaction hurts, but I made it clear before I got arrested that I don’t want any bargaining for me. Speak up publicly and loudly. No private diplomacy for me, please.

I don’t believe in human rights advocacy behind closed doors. “Thanks” to the “privacy” of their efforts, the Council of Europe and OSCE helped the Azerbaijani government to silence all critics and create a false show of human rights.

I remember all of the investigations that I did, and I have no intention to demand support just because I was encouraged to become a skilled investigative reporter, which in fact is the main reason for my arrest.

I am facing ridiculous charges. According to prosecutors:

  1. If RFE/RL didn’t have a license for FM frequency, it could not operate its bureau, which aired its programs on an internet satellite, AM and FM.
  2. RFE, although it is a non-commercial entity and registered accordingly, is portrayed in my charges as “illegal entrepreneurship”.
  3. Prosecutors suggest that RFE is not supposed to have contractors, but only staff members. The accusation of “saving taxes by also having contractors” is also illegal. It means we could have no freelancers.
  4. They claim in order to have the right to work as a journalist with foreign media, (although as a freelancer), I am supposed to be registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since I did not register, I am considered an illegal entrepreneur.

These are the new charges, all related to my work with RFE as a bureau chief and freelancer.

Previously there was a charge of driving someone to (attempt) suicide. The alleged victim later disappeared after saying publicly he would not participate or testify against me any more, but that he could be arrested for refusing to falsify the case against me. His whereabouts are still unclear.

That case didn’t work so the government needed a new case against me and they made it. I have spent three and a half months in detention waiting for one prosecution, which didn’t work out. Now another one starts. Let us see if prosecutors will produce something smarter than they did so far.

I can only wait and see. Meanwhile, I am trying to help people here in prison. I already have one victory. One young girl’s pre-trial detention order was terminated thanks to the appeal I wrote for her. It is not easy at all to move justice forward but always worth trying. Even when the result is a failure, for the sake of justice, for our own sake, “what for” is more important than “how” and “when”

Prison is not the end of life. I am strong and see it as a possibility to learn the system from the other side. Communicating with alleged criminals, who do or don’t accept their guilt, I am learning the wrongdoings of the penitentiary and justice system.

It is in fact an unparalleled opportunity. I take it as a challenge to use the time for translating a book and writing.

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