UPDATE: On May 25, 2016, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan released Khadija and reversed her convictions on charges of misappropriation of property and abuse of position, but upheld her convictions for illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion.Her sentence was reduced to three years and she was given five years of probation (which includes travel restrictions). Read more here.
A Baku court sentenced investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova to seven and a half years in prison on charges widely believed to be retribution for her reporting on corruption linked to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and members of his family.
Ismayilova was convicted on charges of criminal libel, tax evasion, illegal business activity, and abuse of power. She was barred from holding public office for three years and fined the equivalent of 300USD for court-related expenses. She was acquitted of the charge of incitement to suicide.
“Khadija’s case is an example of politics, not law. There was no merit, ever, to any of the charges against her and there was no due process during her trial,” said Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL’s editor in chief. “The authorities simply decided to silence her at any price.”
In her final testimony in court on August 31, a defiant Ismayilova delivered her own blistering indictment of Azerbaijan’s justice system, mocking the prosecution for failing to put together a convincing case and schooling the judge on the charges against her. She called the trial a “poor quality scam” and said, “I am more successful in this business of finding proof than is the notorious prosecutor’s staff.”
During the trial, not a single witness testified against Ismayilova in court.
In a public statement condemning the sentence, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, called on the Azeri government “to stop targeting journalists.” The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists stated that the sentence would have “gravely serious” consequences for Azeri journalists. Speaking as a member of the Sport for Rights Coalition of media advocacy and human rights groups, the PEN American Center’s Karin Deutsch Karlekar called on the Azeri government to stop “this unprecedented witch-hunt against journalists.”
Ismayilova was arrested on December 5, 2014, for inciting an individual to attempt suicide Her accuser sought to withdraw the allegation, testifying in a pre-trial hearing in July that he had “defamed” her under pressure from law enforcement agencies, but the court rejected a defense motion to drop the charge.