Urgent Interventions

Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova free at last!

Paris-Geneva, May 25, 2016 - The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a jointFIDH-OMCT partnership) welcomes today's release on probation of prominentinvestigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, following a decision of theSupreme Court of Azerbaijan to commute the remainder of her 7.5-year jailsentence to a three-year conditional sentence.

Commenting on the decision, FIDH Honorary President Souhayr Belhassendeclared that “while we celebrate today's long-awaited freedom forKhadija, we highlight that she should not have spent one single of her 537 daysin jail”.

OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock added that “the release ofKhadija Ismayilova should not overshadow her conviction, which had no legalgrounds and merely aimed at sanctioning her legitimate humanrights activities”, and called for “her fullacquittal and all charges against her to be dropped”.

In addition to her three and a half year of probation, Ms. Ismayilovaalso now faces a two-year ban on professional activities.

Internationally recognised independent reporter[1] and journalist of the Azerbaijani radio Azadliq (“RadioFreedom”), Ms. Khadija Ismayilova was arrested onDecember 5, 2014 on charges of "inciting" her ex-partner "tocommit suicide". Although in April 2015 the alleged victim withdrew hisaccusations, claiming his testimony was given under pressure, blackmail andtorture, the prosecution did not take it into account and maintained thecharges. In February 2015, Ms. Ismayilova was further accused of charges ofwhich she was eventually convicted: embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, taxevasion and abuse of office. During the hearings in first instance, no evidenceof these accusations was presented. On September 1, 2015, the Baku Court ofGrave Crimes sentenced Ms. Ismayilovato 7,5 years imprisonment. On November 25, 2015, the Baku Court of Appealstruck out the appeal filed by Ms. Ismayilova, leaving her behind bars.

Ms. Khadija Ismayilova's arrest was one in a series of detentions ofhuman rights defenders, activists and journalists and part of an unprecedentedcrackdown on civil society, which culminated in 2014 and 2015 in Azerbaijan.Prominent human rights defenders were sentenced and/or detained on similartrumped up charges, including Mr. RasulJafarov, Mr. Intigam Aliyev, Ms.Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, and Mr. RaufMirqadirov. All of them were released between December 2015 and March 2016,together with Anar Mammadli, detained since 2013, and Hilal Mammadov,detained since 2012. The Observatory reminds that the release of prominentpolitical prisoners has not changed the systematic nature of repressionsagainst critical voices in Azerbaijan.

The Observatory calls on the Azeri authorities to putan end to all forms of harassment - including at the judicial level - againstall human rights defenders in the country and to guarantee that they are ableto carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear ofreprisals.

The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 byFIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of thisprogramme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression againsthuman rights defenders.

[1] She won severalinternational prizes, among which the Gerd Bucerius Free Press of EasternEurope Award by Zeit-Stiftung on May 24, 2012, the Courage of Journalism Awardby the Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation on October 24,2012, and the Global Shining Light Award on October 14, 2013.

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