Azerbaijan: US Embassy Makes Statement Regarding Ismayilova
The United States Embassy in Baku has reacted to a story in a government connected newspaper that said a reporter’s mother must die and then gave information on where she lived. Calling the article “disgusting”, the Embassy condemned the latest attack on OCCRP/Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reporter Khadija Ismayilova.
Ismayilova has faced personal attacks and threats since March 2012 mostly directed by organs affiliated with the government or the ruling party. Ismayilova did a series of articles that showed how ruling family members had taken large shares in projects the government gave out.
Allegations that Ismayilova and her family members are associated with prostitution, pornography, and sex trafficking appeared in an article titled "Khadija's Armenian Mother Should Die" published by Azerbaijani newspaper SES.
SES stated that "this womanlike creature-Khadija, whose mother is Armenian, has insulted people for years," in an attempt to exploit high levels of prejudice against Armenians in Azerbaijan. Ismayilova’s mother is Azerbaijani and not Armenian. The newspaper, associated with the country's ruling party, provided the location of Ismayilova's mother and sister and encouraged readers to go to the residences and harass Ismayilova's family.
The US Embassy demanded a stop to the smear campaign, saying "We are deeply disturbed by the ongoing, targeted harassment of journalist Khadija Ismayilova. These actions are appalling…”
The embassy's statement came two weeks after Reporters Without Borders led 10 other NGOs petitionied the Azerbaijani government for an end to the smear campaign.
SES has since taken the offending page down.
In 2012, Ismayilova, who is OCCRP’s Azeri country coordinator, received pictures of her and her boyfriend taken by hidden cameras in her home along with a threat to her. The harassment continued in the form of a video of Ismayilova and her boyfriend being posted online.
Ismayilova recently won the Women’s Courage in Journalism Award, in part because she brought evidence and leads to the prosecutor's office in Azerbaijan about the harassment. Government officials never acted on her complaints – but she has herself investigated.
The war of words comes just before the October presidential elections. Ismayilova has been critical of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, named "Person of the Year" in crime and corruption for 2012, by the OCCRP, who is running for a third term.