Threats Escalate Against RFE/RL’s Azeri Reporter Ismayilova
WASHINGTON, DC – RFE/RL calls upon the Azerbaijani government to investigate a blackmail and intimidation campaign against investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, following the July 26 online release of a new video containing intimate and illegally obtained images of her.
In addition to posting the video, the website also ran a phony interview attributed to colleague Emin Milli, an independent writer and activist, that was meant to discredit Ismayilova.
Ismayilova, who reports for RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, or Radio Azadliq, as it is known locally, was subjected to online abuse in March 2012, when footage obtained through surveillance equipment planted in her apartment without her knowledge appeared on pro-government websites and was propagated in official media. In April, she was also the subject of an obscene video fabricated to portray her and posted online. The Azeri government responded to the 2012 incident with a public promise to investigate, but to date none has taken place. Ismayilova says that prosecutors have questioned her friends and family members as potential suspects, but no one else.
Ismayilova called the smear campaign against her “moral terror,” and reported that she received credible threats last week about her physical safety.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev will run for an unprecedented third term in elections on October, and Ismayilova’s reports have implicated the president’s family in financial activities and arrangements worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
RFE/RL Acting President and CEO Kevin Klose commended Ismayilova for her unflinching reporting and her refusal to be intimidated, and expressed outrage at the latest provocation. “We expect the Azeri government to investigate, credibly and thoroughly, these attacks against Khadija, and condemn those acts that put journalists at risk,” Klose said. “We ask them to fulfill their commitments to provide meaningful support and protection to journalists, whose work is vital to the public interest.”
Azerbaijan’s Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) has also strongly condemned the “vicious and ugly attacks” against Ismayilova and cites “local intelligence agencies” as perpetrating the smear campaign. “This ugly assault highlights the failure of the Azerbaijani government to adequately protect its citizens. It also illustrates the hostile climate for journalists in Azerbaijan and the critical state of the media freedom,” IRFS CEO and Chair Emin Huseynov said.
In addition to attacks on its reporters, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service has since April 28 experienced interference with its satellite broadcasts from Turkey to Azerbaijan that, according to International Broadcasting Bureau officials, bears the hallmarks of jamming. Requests to the Azeri government by U.S. State Department officials to investigate the source of the interference have not been met.