Azerbaijan: Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova free at last!

Press release
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Meydan TV

Paris-Geneva, May 25, 2016 - The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint FIDH-OMCT partnership) welcomes today’s release on probation of prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, following a decision of the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan to commute the remainder of her 7.5-year jail sentence to a three-year conditional sentence.

Commenting on the decision, FIDH Honorary President Souhayr Belhassen declared that “while we celebrate today’s long-awaited freedom for Khadija, we highlight that she should not have spent one single of her 537 days in jail”.

OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock added that “the release of Khadija Ismayilova should not overshadow her conviction, which had no legal grounds and merely aimed at sanctioning her legitimate human rights activities”, and called for “her full acquittal and all charges against her to be dropped”.

In addition to her three and a half year of probation, Ms. Ismayilova also now faces a two-year ban on professional activities.

Internationally recognised independent reporter and journalist of the Azerbaijani radio Azadliq (“Radio Freedom”), Ms. Khadija Ismayilova was arrested on December 5, 2014 on charges of "inciting" her ex-partner "to commit suicide". Although in April 2015 the alleged victim withdrew 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 charges of which she was eventually convicted: embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of office. During the hearings in first instance, no evidence of these accusations was presented. On September 1, 2015, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Ms. Ismayilova to 7,5 years imprisonment. On November 25, 2015, the Baku Court of Appeal struck out the appeal filed by Ms. Ismayilova, leaving her behind bars.

Ms. Khadija Ismayilova’s arrest was one in a series of detentions of human rights defenders, activists and journalists and part of an unprecedented crackdown on civil society, which culminated in 2014 and 2015 in Azerbaijan. Prominent human rights defenders were sentenced and/or detained on similar trumped up charges, including Mr. Rasul Jafarov, Mr. Intigam Aliyev, Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, and Mr. Rauf Mirqadirov. All of them were released between December 2015 and March 2016, together with Anar Mammadli, detained since 2013, and Hilal Mammadov, detained since 2012. The Observatory reminds that the release of prominent political prisoners has not changed the systematic nature of repressions against critical voices in Azerbaijan.

The Observatory calls on the Azeri authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment - including at the judicial level - against all human rights defenders in the country and to guarantee that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.

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