Azerbaijan: Rocks thrown at Journalists at Ismayilova hearing

Published: 24 July 2015

Khadija Ismayilova

By Igor Spaic

Journalists attempting to cover the judicial hearing for imprisoned investigative journalist and OCCRP partner Khadija Ismayilova were pelted with rocks today, as several motions filed by her defense were dismissed. Court action is to resume August 7.

Journalists were unable to enter the courtroom, which was packed with observers before the proceedings began. In a gesture of defiance, some journalists wore yellow press jackets as a symbol of solidarity with Ismayilova.

As they climbed walls near the court to take pictures of the building’s courtyard, they were greeted with a barrage of stones thrown from inside, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)'s Azerbaijani language service.

Ismayilova, an editor and talk show host for RFE/RL, is accused of inciting a journalistic colleague to attempt to commit suicide, among other charges. She denies the charges, calling them “absurd.”

According to observers inside the courtroom, Ismayilova was defiant as she addressed the court. Azerbaijani President “Ilham Aliyev has arrested me because of personal hostility. He imprisoned me to hinder my journalistic activity,” she said. “But even though I'm here, my colleagues continue investigations.”

She continues to see absurdities in her detention. “When I'm led to a meeting with lawyers, I feel like Ilham Aliyev, or (Minister of Emergencies) Kemaleddin Heydarov. They empty the corridor, no one is allowed to go outside” as she is moved from place to place.

“The prison management is interested about what I write now, not about whether I follow the prison regulations. The real reason behind my arrest is to disable the investigation of the illegal business of Ilham Aliyev and his family.”

Tural Mustafayev, the former colleague who first accused her of pushing him to attempt suicide but later withdrew those allegations, told reporters outside the courtroom today that he was forced to accuse Ismayilova, as he has said before.

Mustafayev said, “I'll tell the court the names of everyone who blackmailed me. I'll reveal everything... They will arrest me because of giving (a) wrong statement against someone. But I am ready for everything.”

Despite his attempt to withdraw the charges, the court refused to dismiss the case. A defense motion to put her under house arrest rather than in prison was also rejected.

OCCRP has continued to investigate stories Ismayilova was working on prior to her arrest and has recently published investigations documenting the high-end real estate the Aliyev family owns in London and the fact that offshores close to Aliyev paid almost nothing for a share in Azerbaijan's state telecom.

According to Ali Karimli, head of the dissident Azerbaijani Popular Front Party, officials deliberately filled the courtroom with government supporters prior to the proceedings to keep activists and journalists out.

He told RFE/RL, “The attitude to Khadija’s trial shows the state’s malicious attitude to Khadija Ismayilova. This special attitude is connected with Khadija Ismayilova’s journalistic investigations on Ilham Aliyev’s and his family members’ business deals.”

The Organization for Security and Co-operation In Europe (OSCE) has condemned Ismayilova’s detention. Last year, its Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, said, “The arrest of Ismayilova is nothing but orchestrated intimidation, which is a part of the ongoing campaign aimed at silencing her free and critical voice.”

 TheEuropean Union delegation to the United Nations also said her arrest “is a step against the freedom of expression, key to any democratic society”. Amnesty International declared her a prisoner of conscience.