Imprisoned Azerbaijani Journalist Khadija Ismayilova Declared "Holme of the Year"

Published: 01 December 2015

Khadija Ismayilova

By Stella Roque

Imprisoned investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova has won a Swedish press prize dedicated to heroism.

Göteborgs Handels-och Sjöfartstidning (GHT), a Swedish liberal newspaper known for its anti-Nazi stance during World War II, today named the Azerbaijani reporter its “Holme of the Year”.

The prize is named after the hero of a Swedish literary trilogy including the novels Land of Wooden Gods, People of the Dawn and Sacrificial Smoke, by Jan Fridegårds.

The award is given out annually on the anniversary of the day African-American civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger on a bus.

Winners are selected for risking their careers and sometimes their lives to uphold the values of liberty and justice.

Reporter Khadija Ismayilova worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Azerbaijan and was a senior investigator for OCCRP before her arrest in December 2014.

She made her career reporting on high-level corruption and abuse of power in her home country, Azerbaijan.

She was sentenced in September this year to seven and a half years in prison after being found guilty of a series of charges including embezzlement and tax evasion.

An array of international human rights groups have described the charges as politically motivated.

The UK and US governments have both said they are deeply troubled by Ismayilova’s sentencing, citing irregularities reported during her trial including the exclusion of witness testimony and other key evidence.

Last Wednesday, the Baku Court of Appeal denied a motion filed by her attorneys for Ismayilova’s acquittal.

The failed motion had also asked that she be allowed to sit next to her lawyers during the court hearings.

GHT said it gave Ismayilova the Holme prize for “standing up for her profession’s ethos even though knowing that it is dangerous to be right when the government is (doing) wrong”.

Previous winners of the award include American whistleblower Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and Mexican investigative journalist Lydia Cacho.

GHT newspaper stopped publishing in 1985 but its name was recently taken up again by founder of the award Dennis Töllborg, a professor of jurisprudence at the University of Gothenburg.

Töllborg and his family business Stella Bianca established the award in 2008, but he will bestow the award under the auspices of GHT from this year onwards with plans to revive the paper in 2017.