In fantastic news from Azerbaijan today, the Supreme Court ordered the release of award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova from prison.
Khadija is known for her in-depth pieces on corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, the oil rich Caspian state. Her investigative pieces exposed evidence of corruption networks that pointed to the country’s top elite, including the President Ilham Aliyev and his family.
The authorities wanted Khadija, and her vital work, silenced. She was arrested on December 5, 2014, initially facing the bizarre and bogus charge of inciting a man to commit suicide. But the charges grew to include embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of power.
Today’s Supreme Court order reduces her seven-and-a-half year jail sentence to a suspended term of three-and-a-half years. While her conviction still stands and her freedoms would be curtailed by the authorities, including her freedom of movement, this is a moment to celebrate.
Human Rights Watch, together with other organizations, has worked diligently for her release. We are committed to doing all we can to shut the revolving prison door for those who speak out for freedom in Azerbaijan.
I am thrilled and excited for Khadija and her family, her friends, and the thousands of people across the globe who know her and who are inspired by her work to fight injustice. She’s an anchor of a popular show at Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, and hers is one of the strongest voices defending those who have been unjustly imprisoned on politically motivated charges in Azerbaijan.
Khadija turns 40 tomorrow, and what could be a better present than her freedom. However, I am sure Khadija also wishes that other people who are imprisoned as part of Azerbaijan’s sweeping crackdown against its critics would be freed as well. These people include political analyst Ilgar Mammadov, whom authorities hold in defiance of the European Court of Human Rights decision on his case and the repeated calls by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to free him. Also behind bars are youth activist Ilkin Rustamzadeh and journalist Seymur Hazi, and over a dozen other activists and government critics.
Khadija was in prison because her investigative reporting and her unrelenting advocacy blew the whistle on high-level corruption. She spoke out on behalf of the political activists, human rights defenders, and journalists unjustly jailed in Azerbaijan. After her release, Khadija will undoubtedly be the first to call on the Azerbaijani authorities to free others. We urge Azerbaijan’s international partners to support her in that call.