European Court of Human Rights rules in favor of Khadiya Ismayilova in blackmail investigation case

Хадиджа Исмаилова и Ялчин Иманов

Хадиджа Исмаилова и Ялчин Иманов

On 10 January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of Khadija Ismayilova in her case against Azerbaijan, finding that authorities had failed to properly investigate attempts to discredit and blackmail the investigative reporter with sex tapes.

The court found that Ismayilova’s rights to respect for private life and freedom of expression had been violated and ordered the Azerbaijani government to pay her compensation in the amount of 16,750 €.

In March 2012, Ismayilova had received a letter with still images from a video of her and her then boyfriend having sex, seemingly recorded with a hidden camera in her bedroom. She was warned to stop her investigative activities if she did not want to be publicly humiliated. The reporter refused to let herself be intimidated, and the video was disseminated on the Internet shortly after. At the same time, government media published stories accusing her of lack of professionalism, anti-government bias and immoral behavior.

Following the continued lack of progress in the official investigation launched by prosecuting authorities, Ismayilova filed a complaint with the ECHR. She claimed that the government had either been directly responsible for the intrusions into her privacy and the smear campaign against her, or at least failed to comply with its duty to protect her rights by conducting an effective investigation to identify those responsible.

While the court found it was not possible to establish the authorities' direct responsibility “beyond reasonable doubt”, the judgment states that the investigation into the case had been significantly flawed and delayed, in a manner “contrary to the spirit of an environment protective of journalism”.

“Over the years, my lawyer, Yalchin Imanov, sent numerous queries to the Prosecutor’s Office to learn more about the investigation and never received an answer. Now we have this ruling from the ECHR that orders the government to make more serious steps", Ismayilova told Meydan TV.

Khadija Ismayilova, whose investigative reports have uncovered massive corruption among Azerbaijan's most powerful political elites, was arrested in December 2014 and sentenced to seven years and six months in prison on charges of tax evasion and illegal entrepreneurship. She denied the charges and said she was arrested because of her investigative journalism.

On 25 May 2016, Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court ordered the journalist’s release, putting her on probation for five years and issuing a suspended sentence later reduced to two years and three months.

Although Ismayilova was released from prison, she is not allowed to leave the country. Her appeals to have her travel ban lifted have been rejected by Azerbaijani courts.

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