WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors today expressed outrage and dismay at the sentencing of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative reporter and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Azerbaijani Service, and called for her immediate release.
On September 1, a court in Azerbaijan sentenced Ismayilova to seven and a half years in prison. Ismayilova was arrested on politically motivated charges on December 5, 2014, and has been held in pretrial detention since.
“We are appalled by today’s verdict,” said BBG Chairman Jeff Shell. “This sentence is clearly retribution for Khadija exposing government corruption and sends a warning shot to other journalists in the country. By passing down this verdict, the Azeri government has demonstrated to the international community that it disdains press freedom, supports its own impunity and has little regard for human rights.”
Khadija is not the only journalist to be silenced in Azerbaijan. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least seven other journalists have been imprisoned this year. On December 26, 2014, RFE/RL’s Baku bureau was raided and closed by agents of the state’s “grave crimes investigations committee” in connection with a new law on “foreign agents.”
In a statement to the court yesterday, Khadija said that exposing the “corruption and lawlessness” of the Azeri government would not stop with her imprisonment.
“I might be in prison, but the work will continue,” she said told the court. “We wrote, informed the community, even if the price for it was arrest and blackmail…I am still happy that I fulfilled my job.”
RFE/RL and BBG representatives have repeatedly contacted Azerbaijani officials to protest her case without success.
Khadija’s tenacity and quality investigative reporting have won her international accolades. In July the National Press Club honored Khadija with a John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, and in April she was awarded the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Prior to her arrest, she received a Global Shining Light Award and an International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award, among others.
BBG joins RFE/RL, the U.S. Department of State, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and many other officials and organizations in denouncing the Azerbaijani government’s imprisonment of Ismayilova and its systematic assault on the freedom of expression.