Azerbaijan: Supreme Court Upholds Ruling Against Absent Ismayilova

Courts were busy today with two cases lodged against investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, although she was only able to attend one set of proceedings.

Khadija Ismayilova in court.Ismayilova, an investigative reporter for OCCRP and Azadliq Radio (the Azerbaijani branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), is on trial in Baku’s Court of Grave Crimes for charges including embezzlement, tax evasion and inciting a former colleague to commit suicide – charges human rights groups say are politically motivated.

But also today, the Supreme Court in Baku upheld a February ruling in a libel case against her in which she had been fined 2,500 manats (US$ 2,400). She was not present for that ruling, Radio Azadliq reports.

Ismayilova, who has been imprisoned since December 2014, denies all charges and says she is being prosecuted in retaliation for her investigative reporting into corruption involving Azerbaijan’s political elite. She claimed at a hearing on July 24 that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev “imprisoned me to hinder my journalistic activity”.

The Supreme Court case relates to a man named Elman Hasanov (Turkoglu), who claimed Ismayilova spread misinformation about him.

The case hinges on two documents: the first alleging that Hasanov agreed to be an informant for the Ministry of National Security after being blackmailed with secret video footage. The second document alleged that Hasanov raped someone in 1992.

Ismayilova said at the original trial that while she did post a document about the alleged blackmail, she removed all reference to Hasanov in it. She added she never posted any documents regarding the alleged rape case and knows nothing about it.

Hasanov previously told Azadliq he would retract his original complaint if Ismayilova revealed the names of her sources.

In the ongoing Court of Grave Crimes case, she is charged with embezzlement, tax evasion and incitement to suicide. That case involves a former colleague who allegedly tried to commit suicide, but who has since testified that she had nothing to do with his suicide attempt.

She again requested today that more of her family and friends be allowed to enter the courtroom. Many supporters and independent media representatives have been barred from hearings.

OCCRP has continued Ismayilova’s work exposing corruption in Aliyev’s regime through an investigative journalism series called the Khadija Project.

Most recently, OCCRP reporters created an interactive tool to document the billions stolen in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has a poor freedom-of-speech record.

Human rights groups say there are at least 80 political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

The trial continues Thursday.