Washington, D.C. — PEN American Center announced on April 15 that it will honor jailed journalist Khadija Ismayilova with the prestigious 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. This award is presented annually to a writer imprisoned or persecuted for his or her work. Ismayilova, who remains in pre-trial detention in Baku, Azerbaijan, will be honored on May 5 – five months since she was imprisoned on December 5, 2014.
Ismayilova is an investigative journalist and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Azerbaijani Service who has reported extensively on the financial activities of Azerbaijani Presidet Ilham Aliyev’s family members exposing high level corruption. Azerbaijan is among the world’s most repressive media environments and Ismayilova’s detention has been widely condemned as part of a systematic, state-led campaign to intimidate and silence the country’s independent activists and journalists.
“We are grateful that the PEN American Center added their voice to the increasingly loud chorus decrying the unjust imprisonment of Khadija Ismayilova,” said BBG Chair Jeff Shell. “The Board wishes nothing more than that this spirited and determined journalist could receive the award in person. We hope the increasing global attention to the injustice of Khadija’s case will lead to her release.”
A courageous journalist, Ismayilova has continued to write even in prison, sending letters describing her solitary confinement.
“Khadija Ismayilova knows no fear. Again and again she has unearthed and exposed stories that have cast a harsh light on widespread corruption and self-dealing at the highest levels of the Azeri government,” said PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel in announcing the award (link to announcement).
In June, Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku will host the first-Ever European Games, an Olympic-organized international sporting event. A group of prominent writers and editors, including many American sportswriters, have written to the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, urging him to demand Ismayilova’s release and condemn the human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.
In addition, the “Press Uncuffed” campaign powered by students at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism in partnership with the Committee to Protect Journalists has included Ismayilova in their crowd-sourced campaign to free imprisoned journalists.
RFE/RL and BBG representatives have repeatedly contacted Azerbaijani officials to protest her case.
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Contact Laurie Moy
Deputy Director , Office of Public Affairs