Azerbaijan sentences journalist Khadija Ismayilova to 7.5-year imprisonment

(FILES)
A file picture taken on October 29, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California, shows honoree Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan's investigative journalist, onstage during the 2012 Courage in Journalism Awards hosted by the International Women's Media Foundation held at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Prosecutors in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan on August 21 demanded a nine-year jail term for a top investigative journalist, in a graft trial activists say is revenge for her reporting on high-level corruption.  Charley Gallay/Getty Images for IWMF/AFP

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have today condemned the sentencing of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova to 7.5 years in jail in the capital, Baku, in a case said to be retaliation for exposing state corruption.

On 1 September, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes convicted Ismayilova, the award-winning investigative journalist at a closed trial on charges of libel, tax evasion, illegal business activity and abuse of power. Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence the reporter to nine years.

“We strongly condemn the outrageous sentence handed down to Khadija Ismayilova,” said IFJ General Secretary Beth Costa. “It is clear that this is a reprisal against the journalist for her professional commitment to investigative journalism. This baseless lengthy jail term serves the sole purpose of intimidating all critical voices in Azerbaijan.”

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, the EFJ President, added: “This is an outrageous verdict which should be overturned immediately. The international community should now tell Azerbaijan firmly our demand for the respect of human rights and press freedom as a prerequisite for democracy. Governments should support NGOs in Azerbaijan to ensure this. This is a task for the EU concerning the partnership countries. We demand the immediate release of Ismayilova.”

According to media reports, Ismayilova delivered a closing statement before her conviction, saying that the case against her was politically motivated and intended to end her investigations into corruption at the highest levels of government.

“I might be in prison, but the work will continue (…) I am still happy that I fulfilled my job,” media quoted her saying, even if the court did not allow her to read the statement in full.

In her statement, she described the government of President Ilham Aliyev as a “repression machine” and she denounced what she called “the presidential family’s stolen money stored in offshore accounts, their abuse of state deals and contracts with offshore companies and groups, and of evading taxes.” She also accused the court of conducting an “express” trial riddled with illegalities whose outcome was predetermined, media added.

Since her arrest in December, Ismayilova has been kept in pre-trial detention. Her trial began on August 7 with the absence of independent journalists and activists who have been barred throughout the proceedings.

The IFJ and the EFJ had previously advocated to release the journalist and they together submitted her case to the Council of Europe’s digital platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety for journalists.

(Picture credit: Charley Gallay/AFP)

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