(WASHINGTON – February 20, 2014) RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service journalist Khadija Ismayilova was questioned for the third consecutive day today by Azerbaijan’s General Prosecutor’s office, on allegations that she leaked state secrets to U.S. congressional aides visiting Baku. The U.S. Embassy and RFE/RL’s President and CEO Kevin Klose have both labeled the accusations “absurd,” and U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) co-chair Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md) has termed the charges “clearly fabricated and punitive in nature.”
Ismayilova, an award-winning investigative journalist and host with Radio Azadliq, as the service is known locally, reports that today’s questioning, which lasted for two hours, focused “mainly on my dinner in Baku’s Art-Garden restaurant with two visiting U.S. Senate staffers in late January. The prosecutor in charge of my case told me that they have information that I passed some kind of state secrets to visiting Americans. I told them it is impossible, since I don’t have any state secrets in my possession. This is an absurd allegation. They asked me to come back again tomorrow.”
Ismayilova was summoned for questioning on February 18 by the prosecutor’s office after pro-government media outlets claimed that she gave files on Azerbaijani opposition politicians and other prominent figures to the aides, who were allegedly working as U.S. intelligence agents.
Known for her reporting on government corruption, Ismayilova has been targeted because of her journalistic work in the past. In early 2012, she was the target of a smear campaign in which an explicit video appeared online containing intimate and illegally obtained images of the journalist. The campaign intensified in August 2013 when a second video appeared.