Azerbaijan: Investigative Journalist sentenced to long prison term

14 September 2015 – Update #1 to RAN 02/15

PEN International is deeply concerned by the seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence handed out to Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova on 1 September 2015. Ismayilova was convicted of “economic crimes, including illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion,” according to AFP. PEN believes that these charges against Ismayilova are a politically-motivated response to her work exposing corruption at the highest levels of Azerbaijani society. PEN is calling for her immediate and unconditional release, for her conviction and sentence to be overturned, and for an end to the campaign of intimidation that has been directed at her.

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Please send appeals to the Azerbaijani authorities:

  • Expressing concern at the seven and a half year prison sentence imposed on investigative journalist, Khajida Ismayilova which PEN believes is politically-motivated and that she has been imprisoned on account of her legitimate work as a journalist;
  • Call on the Azerbaijani authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally and to overturn her conviction and sentence;
  • Call on Azerbaijan to cease its campaign of intimidation directed at opposition or critical voices and to comply with its obligations under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Azerbaijan is a state party) to protect the right to freedom of expression.

Write to:

President Ilham Aliyev
Istiglaliyyat Street 19
1066 Baku
Republic of Azerbaijan
Fax +994124923543
Email: office [at] [dot] az

Salutation: Your Excellency Prosecutor General

Zakir Qaralov
Office of the Prosecutor General
7 Rafibeyli Street
Baku AZ1001, Azerbaijan
Email: info [at] [dot] az

Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General

Please copy your letters to the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in your country. Addresses may be found here.

Note to PEN Centres: Please keep us informed of any action you take in regard to Khadija Ismayilova’s case.

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 11 October 2015. ***

Please inform us of any action you take, and of any responses you receive


Khadija Ismayilova is an investigative journalist, a radio host for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, and is well known – both within Azerbaijan and internationally – for her exposures of high level corruption and for her criticism of the Azeri government’s crackdown on opposition voices. Because of her work, she has been the target of a relentless campaign of intimidation and judicial harassment over the last two years.

She was arrested on 5 December 2014, a day after she was charged under Article 125 of the Penal Code with provoking the alleged suicide attempt of a fellow opposition journalist. In April 2015, her accuser told Radio Free Europe that he had retracted his complaint. However, Ismayilova was subsequently charged with other offences, including embezzlement, abuse of power, tax evasion and illegal business ownership.  Her trial began in July 2015 after several months of pre-trial detention and she was convicted and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on 1 September 2015. Earlier, in February 2015, she was also convicted of defamation under Article 147.2 of the Penal Code by a former member of the Popular Front party who accused her of having defamed him in an article in which she exposed his work in subverting opposition organisations. Fined 2,500 manat (£1,500), her appeal against her conviction was postponed indefinitely in May 2015.

Ismayilova, who was awarded the 2015 Barbara Goldsmith award by PEN American Center, said in a letter from prison, “Do not let the government of Azerbaijan distract your attention from its record of corruption and abuse. Keep fighting for human rights, for those who are silenced. Keep fighting for right, and for good. Be loud, and be public. The people of Azerbaijan need to know that their rights are supported.”

A transcript of Ismayilova’s final statement to the court can be read here.

Previously, in February 2014, Ismayilova was called several times as a witness in an investigation into the leaking of state secrets, in which she was accused of handing files on Azeri opposition politicians to the US intelligence services; in October 2014 she was detained for several hours by the authorities at Baku airport on her way home from a meeting with Council of Europe officials in Strasbourg; in April 2013, videos secretly recorded in the journalist’s apartment were posted online; in March 2012, following her investigation into President Aliyev’s family’s alleged interests in lucrative construction projects in Baku ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest, she received anonymous threats and warnings to stop her investigation: when she refused, an explicit video (allegedly depicting her) was posted online.

PEN’s work on Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is seeing an unprecedented crackdown on civil society. The challenges faced by opposition voices or critical journalists are severe and frequent, and include death threats, surveillance, judicial harassment and violence. The Writers in Prison Committee Case List for 2014 lists 26 cases of Azeri journalists and writers imprisoned or otherwise harassed.

PEN International raised its free expression concerns relating to Azerbaijan in our joint submission to the United Nations’ 16th Universal Periodic Review session in 2013. During Azerbaijan’s session, PEN collaborated with Article 19 to host a side event entitled ‘Azerbaijan: the individual cost of freedom of expression,’ in which Khadija Ismayilova participated. PEN has also contributed to a number of joint public appeals calling on the Azeri authorities to end the campaign of intimidation and judicial harassment directed at Ismayilova. Khadija Ismayilova features in PEN’s annual Case List, which may be found here.

To read more on our concerns about Azerbaijan, please see the Resolution on Azerbaijan adopted at PEN International’s 80th World Congress, which took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 2014.