Azerbaijan: Appeal dismissed: Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova to remain in jail for 7.5 years

Press release
Radio Free Europe

(Paris-Geneva) The appeal filed by prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova to contest her 7.5-year jail sentence was struck out on November 25 by the Baku Court of Appeal, deplores the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint FIDH-OMCT programme).

On September 1, 2015, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes had sentenced Ms. Khadija Ismayilova to 7,5 years imprisonment on charges of “embezzlement”, “illegal entrepreneurship”, “tax evasion”, and “abuse of office”. This sentence therefore remains in force.

Internationally recognised independent reporter [1] and journalist of the Azerbaijani radio Azadliq (“Radio Freedom”), Ms. Ismayilova was arrested on December 5, 2014 on charges of "inciting" her ex-partner "to commit suicide". Although in April 2015 the alleged victim retreated his accusations, claiming his testimony was given under pressure, blackmail and torture, the prosecution did not take it into account and maintained the charges. In February 2015, Ms. Ismayilova was further accused of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of office. During the hearings in first instance, no evidence of these accusations was presented.

"We are extremely concerned by the dismissal of Khadija Ismayilova’s complaint by the Court of Appeal. This development adds to the series of violations of free and fair trial standards suffered by Ms. Ismayilova and other human rights defenders in Azerbaijan”
Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

“It is time for the international community to strongly take a stand against this systematic repression and harassment of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, and for the Azeri authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those arbitrarily detained”
Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

Ms. Ismayilova’s first instance trial, which opened on July 24, 2015, had already fallen short of international human rights standards. The hearings were held in a semi-closed format, denying access to journalists, observers and diplomats. She was kept in glass cage during the hearings and all the motions filed by the defence were denied. Hereby the principles of equality of arms and the presumption of innocence were violated along with the independence of the judiciary and transparent judicial proceedings. The same pattern characterised all trials against human rights defenders over the past months.

The crackdown on civil society, going on in Azerbaijan since last year, has indeed recently seen other prominent human rights defenders sentenced on similar trumped up charges: Mr. Rasul Jafarov and Mr. Intigam Aliyev sentenced in appeal respectively to 6.3 and 7.5 years of jail, and Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov sentenced by a lower court respectively to 8.5 and 7 years in prison. Even though on November 12, Mr. Yunusov was conditionally released for health reasons for the period of his appeal trial, the Baku Grave Crimes Court could review its decision anytime in case of a positive change in the health of Mr. Yunusov.

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