Azerbaijan court frees campaigning journalist Khadija Ismayilova



A top Azerbaijan investigative journalist, in jail since December 2014, has been freed on the order of the country’s supreme court, the BBC reports:

Khadija Ismayilova‘s seven-and-a-half year sentence for corruption prompted international outrage and her cause was taken up by rights lawyer Amal Clooney. Critics argue she was singled out for investigating businesses close to the family of President Ilham Aliyev…..

Ismayilova had made allegations of massive embezzlement of oil funds by government ministers. During her trial she said it was not a coincidence that she had been charged with embezzlement and tax evasion, as these were the crimes she had written and spoken about.

The reason behind the court’s decision to release Ms Ismayilova is unclear. But Ms Clooney’s team had submitted a case to the European Court of Human Rights in March and a decision was expected.

“This is a great day for Khadija, and for all journalists and for free speech everywhere,” RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic said. “We are overjoyed for Khadija and her family and can’t wait for her to get back to work.”

This is what Ismayilova, who was released from prison today, posted to Facebook in February 2014, ten months before being arrested for her in-depth reporting on the runaway corruption and human rights abuses of her country’s ruling crime family, the Aliyevs, Michael Weiss writes for The Daily Beast:

“Some of you want to help, but can do it only with private diplomacy. Thank you, but No. [Where] my case is concerned, if you can, please support [it] by standing for freedom of speech and freedom of privacy in this country as loudly as possible. Otherwise, I rather prefer you not to act at all.”

In the annals of dissidence, this must rank as one of the braver appeals to solidarity ever made, Weiss notes.

Ismayilova won the 2015 Pen/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write award, and on Wednesday, Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Pen America, said in a statement, The Guardian adds: “The release on probation of Khadija Ismayilova, an intrepid force exposing corruption in Azerbaijan, is a victory for journalists everywhere who go up against the toughest regimes bent on silencing those who dare challenge them.”

Ismayilova’s release is a welcome step but she will not have obtained justice until her conviction is quashed, said Amnesty International.

“Khadija Ismayilova must be fully acquitted if she is ever to obtain justice for her wrongful imprisonment,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“Numerous other prisoners of conscience are still in jail for exercising their right to freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and must also be freed to break this dangerous pattern of fear and repression.”

Her release, said Clooney (left), was “a victory for all journalists who dare to speak truth to power.”

“Khadija is a talented journalist who was instrumental in exposing corruption in her country,” she said.

“Khadija deserves full acknowledgment of her innocence and should be allowed to resume her work as a journalist without further harassment by the government,” Clooney said.

“Khadija’s release corrects a grave injustice that she and the people of Azerbaijan have suffered. We feel very happy for Khadija and her family who have been so strong during this ordeal,” Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) editor Drew Sullivan said, “OCCRP will continue to report on the first family of Azerbaijan and any corruption in that country we find. There is much work to do.”

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