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Azerbaijan journalist Khadija Ismayilova vows to continue fight from prison

Award-winning Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova delivered a defiant closing statement in Baku before her conviction, saying a lengthy jail term would not crush her spirit.

Ismayilova, who was jailed for seven-and-a-half years at a closed trial today, said the case against her is politically motivated and intended to end her investigations into corruption at the highest levels of government.

"I might be in prison, but the work will continue,” she said, according to remarksprepared for delivery. The court did not allow Ismayilova to read her statement in full.

Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Ismayilova to nine years in prison on charges of libel, tax evasion, illegal business activity and abuse of power.

The sentence has been condemned by human rights activists. "This was yet another unfair trial relying on fabricated charges,” said Amnesty International’s Denis Krivosheev. "The government has stepped up its brutal crackdown on political activists, journalists, human rights defenders - indeed anyone who dares to publicly raise a critical voice.”

Several other journalists and activists have been imprisoned in Azerbaijan in what has been widely seen as an effort to stifle dissent.

Ismayilova’s statement to the court described the government of President Ilham Aliyev as a "repression machine” and denounced what she called "the presidential family’s stolen money stored in offshore accounts, their abuse of state deals and contracts with offshore companies and groups, and of evading taxes”.

She also voiced confidence that "real journalists and mindful citizens” would continue denouncing high-level corruption in the oil-producing former Soviet republic.

Ismayilova said she and like-minded independent journalists did important work to "expose corruption and

"We wrote, informed the community, even if the price for it was arrest and blackmail ... I am still happy that I fulfilled my job,” she said.

One of her reports was a 2012 piece alleging that the Azerbaijani government had awarded the rights to a lucrative gold field to the president’s family, and a 2014 investigation into the family’s business affairs.
Ismayilova, who has won numerous international awards, said the court had conducted an "express” trial riddled with illegalities whose outcome was predetermined.

She said that testimony during the proceedings revealed that the evidence the prosecution presented against her was based on witness statements that "were either taken under pressure or signed without these people actually reading the statements”.

"One of the witnesses was offered a bribe,” she told the court. "What kind of a state is this?”

She said it was ironic that the government had accused her of tax evasion, embezzlement and abuse of power when these are the very crimes she has sought to expose in her investigative reporting.

"To accuse the person who investigated the presidential family’s stolen money stored in offshore accounts, its abuse of state deals and of contracts with offshore companies and groups, and its evasion of taxes was very funny,” she told the judge.

She vowed that, if sent to prison, "I won’t break under a 15- or even a 25-year sentence.”

"I am going to have an opportunity to expose [abuses in] the penitentiary services,” she said. "I am one of those people who knows how to turn a problem into an opportunity.”

Ismayilova, 39, is among the most prominent of dozens of activists, journalists, and government critics who have been targeted in what rights groups say is a persistent clampdown on dissent by Aliyev’s government.
Since her arrest in December, Ismayilova has been kept in pre-trial detention despite repeated calls by the United States and other western governments for her release. Amnesty International calls her a "prisoner of conscience” and the Committee to Protect Journalists calls the charges against her retaliation for her journalistic activities.

Only some representatives of foreign embassies have been able to attend Ismayilova’s trial, which began on August 7. Independent journalists and activists have been barred throughout the proceedings.


The Guardian


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