Azerbaijan: Ismayilova’s Lawyers Seek Acquittal in Closing Statements

Published: 26 August 2015

A cartoon in honour of Ismayilovs by PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers

By Beth Lacy

Lawyers for investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova asked for her acquittal at a hearing in Baku today, Azadliq Radio reports. 

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 attempt suicide – charges human rights groups say are politically motivated.

In his closing statement Ismayilova’s lawyer Fakhraddin Mehdiyev asked for Ismayilova to be cleared.

Her other lawyer Fariz Namazli said the court had distorted witness testimonies and failed to prove her guilt, and called for the judge to reopen the part of the trial in which evidence is given and examined. 

The judge, however, refused after state prosecutor Ramazan Hadiyev argued that the motion was a delay tactic.

Hadiyev, who has requested a nine-year sentence for Ismayilova, 39, said her wrongdoing had been “completely proven”.

Ismayilova’s mother, Elmira Ismayilova, told reporters that her daughter’s lawyers had done their best but insisted that the order to put Ismayilova on trial had come from the top.

“They are doing what Ilham [Aliyev] told them to do,” she said.

Ismayilova today asked for a week to prepare her final statement.

The judge granted three working days, and she is expected to speak in court when the trial resumes on Aug. 31.

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.