Azerbaijan: Testimony Ends in Ismayilova Trial; Sentence Request Tomorrow

Published: 20 August 2015

Khadija Ismayilova in court

By Beth Lacy

The testimony portion of investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova’s trial concluded today in Baku, Radio Azadliq reports. 

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

After hearing evidence from a tax specialist, the judge in Ismayilova’s case said today the judicial investigation is complete, Trend reports.

The state prosecutor asked the judge to allow him to speak at tomorrow’s hearing, when he is expected to request a specific sentence. Earlier reports said Ismayilova could face as much as 12 years in prison.

A lawyer who has been observing the case believes the trial should finish next week.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Ismayilova said she did not want to be “convicted hastily,” having previously expressed concern that the court is rushing towards a verdict.

The trial of Leyla and Arif Yunus came to an abrupt end last week. The Azerbaijani human rights activists were handed eight-and-a-half and seven-year sentences respectively for alleged economic crimes and were sentenced within a week of the prosecutor’s request.

Before her arrest in December 2014, Ismayilova reported extensively on corruption in the upper echelons of the Azerbaijani government.

She believes her investigative work is the real reason behind her legal troubles, claiming at a hearing on July 24 that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev “imprisoned me to hinder my journalistic activity.”

OCCRP has continued her work exposing corruption in Aliyev’s regime through an investigative journalism series called The Khadija Project. Most recently, OCCRP journalists created an interactive tool to document the billions stolen in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has a poor record on free speech. According to human rights organizations, there are at least 80 political prisoners in Azerbaijan.