The highly controversial trial of Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova adjourned for five days on August 21 after the prosecution demanded
a nine-year jail term
for the internationally acclaimed freelance reporter on various criminal charges. Media-freedom advocates around the world view the trial as an attempt by Azerbaijan’s government to silence yet another prominent critical voice.
Known for her exposés of corruption and nepotism in the tightly run, hydrocarbon-rich Caucasus country, Ismayilova, 39, was initially arrested last year on suspicion of inciting an individual at RFE/RL’s now shuttered Baku office to attempt suicide. The alleged victim retracted his accusations, but Ismayilova, RFE/RL’s former bureau chief, was kept in pretrial detention with new charges of alleged embezzlement and tax evasion popping up.
RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service
reported Ismayilova’s mother, Elmira, as saying that her daughter laughed when she learned of the proposed prison term.
With access to the court tightly restricted, details of the proceedings are few. Ismayilova, though, asserted in court that the prosecution had presented inadequate proof for their allegations, and that the judge, supposedly
eager to go on vacation
, was rushing the case without regard for Ismayilova’s rights.
International human rights watchdogs see a bitter irony in that Ismayilova, who reported extensively about abuse of power in Azerbaijan, particularly within the family and administration of President Ilham Aliyev, is now charged with abuse of power herself.
“[N]o one is fooled by all these trumped-up charges. The authorities are trying an independent journalist who refuses to be silenced and whose commitment to human rights irritates those who violate them,” wrote Johann Bihr, head of the Reporters Without Borders for Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, in
a tribute to Ismayilova
in late July.
“[T]hese are bald efforts to lock away journalists who investigate corruption and human rights abuses,” concurred
Committee to Protect Journalists’ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova
earlier this year.
Demanding that outsiders let an “independent court” handle the case, Baku brushes aside such criticism, but the country’s judiciary is widely seen as a docile extension of President Aliyev’s administration. Azerbaijani officials have also been
defiantly dismissive of criticism from Western governments, rights organizations and media
for its crackdown on civil society, which most recently included jail terms for prominent human rights and conflict reconciliation advocate Leyla Yunus and husband, scholar Arif Yunus.
With Ismayilova’s fate to be decided next week (August 26), official expressions of concern from the US and EU over such arrests and convictions have so far failed to stop any of the alleged repression in its tracks.
Originally published by