Azerbaijan: Jailed Journalist Khadija Ismayilova's Home Searched

Khadija Ismayilova

New details have emerged about the bizarre case under which investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been imprisoned in Baku, Azerbaijan.

A former friend of Ismayilova’s broke his silence on Saturday, Dec. 6 about his claims that she drove him to attempt suicide after causing him to lose his job and threatening to spread embarrassing information about him.

Ismayilova’s lawyer has dismissed the allegations as “absurd,” noting that prosecutors possess neither facts nor evidence to support the claims.

Ismayilova, who was taken into a two-month pretrial detention on Friday, stands accused under Section 125 of Azerbaijan’s penal code, incitement to commit suicide. It is the latest in a series of legal moves to rachet up pressure on the award-winning journalist, whose work has exposed corruption among Azerbaijan’s political elite including the family of President Ilham Aliyev.

Tural Mustafayev, a former reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Meydan TV in Azerbaijan, claimed to local media on Saturday Dec. 6 that Ismayilova became jealous after a personal relationship between them turned sour in March.

“I met a girl during one of the events both of us attended, and because of that Khadija Ismayilova started criticizing and threatening me on her Facebook page,” said Mustafayev.

When asked by OCCRP what Ismayilova had written about him, he responded that he didn't remember. "She didn't use my name but I understood that she means me," he said.

Tural Mustafayev
Tural Mustafayev

He claims that Ismayilova, who also works for RFE/RL, blocked his re-hiring by the radio station, a charge Ismayilova denies.

He said: “When I left Meydan TV, I wanted to return to the Radio but they did not hire me back. As you know, those who worked for Radio Liberty or Meydan TV cannot be employed anywhere else. Khadija did not want these two companies to hire me.”

The RFE/RL Baku bureau commented that he contributed for Radio Liberty from Goychay and surrounding districts but left the radio at his own request. TV Meydan denied Ismayilova played any role in his departure.

He claims to have attempted suicide twice – once in May, and once on October 20, when he ingested poison.

Mustafayev had previously refrained from comment due to what he called confidentiality issues.

Human rights organizations and NGOs have widely condemned this case, the latest in a series of three legal charges currently being pursued against Ismayilova, as politically motivated. If convicted, Ismayilova faces a prison sentence of three to seven years. As part of the court process, officials searched Ismayilov’s Baku apartment this weekend and seized 50 DVDs as well as her modem.

Sources close to Ismayilova are concerned that Article 125, the law on incitement to commit suicide, is being used selectively by prosecutors. Critics point to cases such as that of Zaur Hasanov, who in December 2013 reportedly set fire to himself in front of the Trade Union Confederation (TUC) building in Baku. He had been in a dispute over a property that he said had been appropriated from him by the head of the TUC in 1995. No prosecution was sought.

Ismayilova’s lawyer Elton Guliyev said the case was politically motivated. “Khadija is arrested purely because of her journalism activities, because of the investigations she was conducting. The charges against her are absurd. The court does not possess evidence or any facts,” he said.

Two days prior to Ismayilova’s arrest, the head of the Presidential Administration published a 62-page tirade about Ismayilova, who is winner of several national and international awards for her investigative work. In it, she is accused of spreading “anti-Azerbaijani” material through her reports for RFE/RL.

The document says: “The public is of the opinion that Radio Liberty’s staff is on a disgusting path. There is no need to prove that spreading false information equals working for the foreign special services. This is treason. […]  If Khadija Ismayilova is a symbol of democracy, it is terrible to imagine what awaits the society in future.”

The OSCE's representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, has condemned Ismayilova's arrest. "The arrest of Ismailova is nothing but orchestrated intimidation, which is a part of the ongoing campaign aimed at silencing her free and critical voice," said Mijatovic.

On Dec. 6, the Prosecutor General released a statement, calling Mustafayev’s claims “well-founded”.