On September 1, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced award-winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova to 7 years and 6 months in prison. She was convicted of charges of embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of office. The journalist was acquitted of the charge of inciting former colleague Tural Mustafayev to attempt suicide, which was the original criminal charge filed against her. Earlier in the trial, Mustafayev
recanted his accusations
against Ismayilova, which he said were made under pressure.
According to Khadija’s mother, Almira Ismayilova, Ismayilova laughed as the verdict was announced.
“She didn’t say anything. She only laughed. Just like she always does. And she told me to say hi to everyone and tell everyone they should stay strong and step up the fight. And that they should not be afraid of anything. No one should be afraid of the court. It’s not that frightening,” her mother said.
Ismayilova’s sentencing sparked outrage from human rights defenders and officials around the world.
“We condemn today’s verdict in the case of Khadija Ismayilova, which puts an outrageous yet expected ending to the grotesque proceedings against her”, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “The time for business as usual with Azerbaijan is over. We call on Baku’s counterparts in the international community to make no further dealings with this highly repressive state until Ismayilova is unconditionally released and fully acquitted of all fabricated accusations”.
“The outrageous verdict against Khadija Ismayilova shows the Azerbaijani authorities’ willingness to subvert the law to exact revenge against critics,” said
, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Her conviction and sentence should be immediately set aside.”
The US State Department issued a statement on September 1, saying that the US was “deeply troubled” by the Baku court decision. “We are further concerned by reports of irregularities during the investigation and trial, including the apparent exclusion of witness testimony and other key evidence,” the
read. “This case is another example in a broad pattern of increasing restrictions on human rights in Azerbaijan, including curtailing the freedom of the press.”
The UK Minister for Europe echoed that sentiment, urging “Azerbaijan to abide by its international commitments to respect the rule of law while taking concrete steps to improve their human rights record.”