Azerbaijan: Court Rejects Ismayilova's Appeal amid Growing International Outrage

A court in Baku has rejected petitions by the defense lawyers of imprisoned Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova at a Thursday hearing.

Khadija Ismayilova (left)They sought to appeal the seven-and-a-half year prison sentence handed to Ismayilova in early September for alleged offenses including tax evasion, abuse of power and running an illegal business – charges that human rights groups say were fabricated.

Ismayilova's journalism prior to her imprisonment exposed the business dealingsof Azerbaijani government officials and President Ilham Aliyev's family.

According to the state-run APA news agency, Ismayilova wanted to sign an agreement with Yalchin Imanov – her former lawyer who was thrown off the case by the court in March.

This move was rejected.

The court also denied all petitions filed by Ismayilova's lawyer Fakhraddin Mehdiyev, who asked that she be permitted to sit next to her lawyers instead of a glass booth during further hearings.

Mehdiyev also moved for her to be released from prison and instead taken under house arrest, as well as calling for another partial investigation into her case.

A judicial review was agreed, to take place on October 29. 

Support for Ismayilova Grows

Human rights groups, press freedom bodies and foreign officials have called for Ismayilova's release since her September conviction.

Her name was recently included in a United States resolution introduced by 20 female senators the urging states to release women political prisoners.

The bipartisan resolution, brought to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 22, was written in support of a campaign launched by the US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power at the beginning of that month, called #FreeThe20.

According to the Senator Kelly Ayotte, its goal is to "support the empowerment of women and urge countries to release women held unjustly".

Senators proposing the resolution said: "As 20 women serving in the United States Senate we stand unified in calling on governments to recognize the universal human rights of women and to release women who have been imprisoned unjustly for exercising those rights. Our message is simple - world leaders and foreign governments, including those attending the UN-hosted meeting this month, should empower women, not imprison them."

The named countries include China, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Iran, Burma, Vietnam, Egypt, Venezuela, Russia, North Korea and Azerbaijan.

Apart from Ismayilova, the resolution also mentions imprisoned Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus.

US senators including Ben Cardin have already voiced concern over the arrest and imprisonment of Ismayilova and other political prisoners in Azerbaijan. The US State Department has also released statements expressing concern over the imprisonment of both Ismayilova and Yunus.

The US State Department is not the only international entity to be troubled by Azerbaijan's crackdown on civil society and media freedom.

On Sept. 10, the European Parliament adopted a resolution urging Azerbaijan to release Ismayilova and other political prisoners, urging European Union institutions to conduct an investigation into the findings contained in her stories. 

Despite her imprisonment, Ismayilova's work has continued. Investigative reporters from several countries have continued to research and write investigative stories about corruption in the Azerbaijani government, published on the Khadija Project.