The Magnitsky Human Rights Awards 2020
Azerbaijani journalist in prison receives prestigious award for prominent human rights defenders
Human Rights Watch has announced that jailed Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been awarded one of its prestigious Citizenship Awards.
The award is named after Alison De Forges, an internationally renowned human rights defender who died in 2009. This award recognizes people who risk their lives to protect the dignity and rights of others..
In a statement released on Thursday, Human Rights Watch notes that a prominent investigative journalist has dedicated her life to fighting for human rights in Azerbaijan. This country is often criticized for its tough authoritarian regime, for the fact that human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and many political activists are imprisoned there..
“Khadija Ismailova is unshakable and determined to seek justice, and not just abstractly, but for many people she knows and wrote about,” said Giorgi Gogia, director of Human Rights Watch’s South Caucasus office. “Ismailova’s honesty and courage inspire others.”.
Ismailova for two years held the position of the head of the Baku bureau of the Azerbaijan branch of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Radio Azablik
She was arrested and detained on December 5, 2014 on charges of defamation, which, according to human rights defenders, was fabricated..
Ismailova was also accused of persuading her former colleague to commit suicide, and the one who accused her of this later recanted his testimony. She was then charged with other charges, including tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurial activity and abuse of office..
Ismailova denied all accusations, calling them fabricated and politically motivated, and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty called them “irrelevant to reality.”.
On September 1, the journalist was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. Human Rights Watch notes politically motivated prosecutions, a multi-breach trial and a campaign to discredit it. Gogia called on the Azerbaijani authorities to “immediately cancel the sentence imposed on Ismayilova and release her”.
Representatives of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the American agency in charge of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and Voice of America, have repeatedly protested to the Azerbaijani authorities and demanded the release of the journalist.
As head of Radio Azadlik’s Baku bureau and talk show host, Ismayilova has been actively investigating and reporting on corruption, abuse and other violations committed by government officials, including those in the highest echelons of power, Human Rights Watch reported. It is noted that, starting in 2011, Ismailova talked about cases of illegal expropriation of housing by the state and forced eviction of owners of housing subject to demolition for the construction of facilities for the Eurovision Song Contest.
In response, the Azerbaijani authorities began to threaten the journalist, intimidate her and tried to vilify her in the state media..
Ismayilova also actively advocated the release of illegally convicted activists, amid the continuing infringement of civil rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan, including freedom of speech and assembly..
Over the past two years, the Azerbaijani authorities have imprisoned many of the most active human rights defenders and journalists. Many others had to leave the country or go into hiding. Among the victims of the arbitrariness of the authorities, lawyer Intigam Aliyev, human rights activist Rasul Jafarov, veteran of the human rights movement Leyla Yunus, political activist Ilgar Mammadov and activist observing the elections, Anar Mammadli.
Last December, Azerbaijani police raided the offices of the Banking Bureau of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, closing the office and ordering journalists to stop working. The police interrogated the reporters, asking them about their work. Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Azerbaijan among 10 countries with the most stringent censorship.