The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered on 10 January its judgment in the case of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova. The independent investigative journalist was the target of a systematic smear campaign comprising threats, intimidation and gross violations of her privacy designed to prevent her from pursuing her journalistic work. The ECHR found violations of Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights by Azerbaijan in respect of these intrusions into her private life. The European Federation of Journalists welcomes the decision of the court.
Khadija Ismayilova, an award-winning journalist well known for deep investigations into the corruption at the highest levels of government, was arrested on 5 December 2014 on a trumped-up charge of inciting a former colleague to commit suicide. Her preventive detention has been routinely extended ever since and on 13 February 2015, she was additionally charged with large-scale embezzlement, illegal trading, tax evasion and abuse of authority.
On 1 September 2015, a Baku court sentenced Khadija Ismayilova to 7 and a half years in prison on charges of misappropriation and embezzlement, illegal business dealings, tax evasion and abuse of power. On 25 November 2015, the Baku Court of Appeal upheld the verdict of the court of first instance, sentencing Khadija Ismayilova to a 7.5 year prison term.
On 25 May 2016, Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court has ordered to release Khadija Ismayilova from custody after reducing her prison sentence from 7.5 years to a suspended term of 3.5 years. And on 8 August 2016, the Court for Serious Crimes ordered Khadija Ismayilova’s suspended term to be shortened to 2 years and 3 months.
In September 2013 Ms Ismayilova petitioned the ECHR. The court held on 10 January 2019 that the Azerbaijani authorities violated her Article 10 right to freedom of expression by failing to protect her in the exercise of that freedom: both by failing to effectively investigate her complaints and by actively publishing additional information relating to her private life, contrary to the “spirit of an environment protective of journalism”. The ECHR also held that there had been a violation of Ms Ismayilova’s Article 8 right to private life due to the Azerbaijani authorities’ failure to conduct an effective investigation into the “serious, flagrant and extraordinarily intense” invasion of her privacy, especially given there was a plausible link between these intrusions and her journalistic activity.
In its judgment, the ECHR acknowledged the record of persecution of journalists in Azerbaijan and noted that this persecution, coupled with a climate of impunity, may produce a “grave chilling effect” on freedom of expression.
Picture credit: Jason Merritt / Getty Images NA / AFP.