The world marked the International Women’s Day on March 8. But for Khadija Ismayilova, an imprisoned investigative journalist, the holiday is nothing more than another manifestation of gender-based discrimination. She refuses to celebrate it. The day also conjures up memories of March 7, 2012, when Ismayilova was blackmailed with an intimate video shot with a camera hidden in her bedroom. On that day, Ismayilova received a letter containing threats of public humiliation if the investigative journalist did not “behave.” It was a chilling message that the regime would stop at nothing to silence critics.
Undeterred, Ismayilova continued her work as an investigative journalist exposing corruption within the governemnt. In December 2014, she was arrested and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison on charges of tax evasion and abuse of power four months later in a kangaroo trial.
Ismaiylova is the only female political prisoner in Azerbaijan.
Meydan TV paid a visit to her mother Elmira Ismayilova to gain the latest insights into Khadija’s life behind bars.
“Be strong and do not lose hope”
Khadija’s niece opened the gates to the house and welcomed us into the living room, where Elmira was casually chatting with a group of guests around a dining table. We congratulated Elmira on the International Women’s Day and inquired about her well-being before asking for an interview. She willingly accepted and prepared a room for us.
“Khadija has just called,” she said. “If you had come a little bit earlier, you could have talked to her too.”
Disappointed about missing the chance to speak with her daughter, we inquired about the time of the call.
“She called in the morning,” Elmira replied. “Her schoolmates were here too. She talked to them too. Her friends got emotional when hearing her voice.”
Every time Elmira sees her daughter, Khadija asks about her friends and wants her mother to send them one message: “Always be strong and do not lose hope!”
The moment Khadija was arrested, she left some instructions to her mother too.
“She always tells me not to cry and not to despair. I ask her who she took after?!” Elmira says.
“I’m worried I will never see her again”
It is not the first time that Khadija has been away from home, but it is the uncertainty of knowing when and if they will reunite that haunts her mother.
“I tell her I miss her a lot, she says: ‘Mom, you have never been like this. You never said this when I lived in the US for two years and when I traveled abroad.’”
Recently, Elmira has undergone a complicated heart surgery in Turkey. The surgery went well, but Elmira suffered brain damage.
She is worried that she may not see her daughter again.
She gets emotional thinking about it. After a moment of silence, she pulls herself together and continues the interview. She says she started feeling better afterwards.
“After the surgery, when I met with Khadija, I told her I was worried I would never see her again. Tears started rolling up as I pronounced these words. Her reaction was, “Mom, haven’t I told you not to cry?!””
“I am proud of my daughter”
When asked about Khadija’s well-being, Elmira replied: “She is fine. She has no complaints about prison conditions. They deliver everything we bring her. Her relationship with other inmates is also good. She is well-respected there as well.”
Looking back at last year’s trial, Elmira says her daughter was mentally prepared for the outcome and did not break down.
“She knew in advance what to expect,” she says. “I wish everyone to have such a courageous child.”
Khadija stays active in jail, according to her mother, and translates new books. When it comes to political matters, Elmira has a piece of advice to share.
“We must be strong. At the least, we must be strong for the sake of our children and their rights.”