ARTICLE 19 welcomes the news that Khadija Ismayilova, a leading Azerbaijani investigative journalist, has been released on probation from prison today after a year and half behind bars. We continue to call for a full acquittal and for all restrictions placed on her to be lifted.
The Azerbaijani Supreme Court today commuted Ismayilova’s sentence from 7.5 years imprisonment to a 3.5 year suspended term. This permits her release but without clearing her conviction, which means she will still be subject to unwarranted restrictions based on unfounded charges.
“We are delighted to hear today of Khadija’s release, after a year and half spent unjustly behind bars. However, probation is not enough. She should be fully acquitted and the Azerbaijani authorities must refrain from continuing their long-standing practice of persecuting critical voices,” said Susan Coughtrie, ARTICLE 19’s Senior Programme Officer for Europe and Central Asia.
“Khadija’s numerous investigations uncovered corruption at the highest echelons of the Azerbaijani regime and provided a damning testimony of widespread human rights abuses – undoubtedly making her a target for persecution. During her time in prison Khadija Ismayilova has become a symbol to many around the world inspired by her courage and bravery in relentlessly speaking truth to power – despite her great personal sacrifice,” Coughtrie added.
In recent years, numerous efforts have been made to silence Ismayilova – from blackmail to public shaming and accusations of espionage, and finally, her imprisonment. In September 2015, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced the journalist to 7.5 years in prison on charges of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of office. She had spent 10 months pre-trial detention after being arrested in December 2014 originally on the charge of inciting someone to attempt suicide, of which she was acquitted.
On World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2016, Ismayilova was awarded the prestigious UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize recognising her outstanding contribution to press freedom particularly in the face of dangerous circumstances. Ismayilova has previously won a number of awards as a result of her investigative work, including the Global Shining Light Award, the German ZEIT Foundation Award, the International Women’s Media Federation’s Courage Award, and the PEN America Press Freedom Award.
ARTICLE 19, as part of the Sport for Rights campaign, is holding a rally on 27 May 2016 – Khadija’s 40th birthday – outside the Azerbaijani Embassy in London to celebrate Ismayilova’s release, call for her full acquittal as well as the release of other political prisoners – including journalists and human rights defenders still behind bars.
The action is part of 40 parallel events in 40 different cities – for more information see https://www.facebook.com/sport4rights/