Courage Award winner Ismayilova arrested at peaceful demonstration in Baku, Azerbaijan
January 28, 2013 -- The IWMF is deeply concerned about freedom and safety of the press in Azerbaijan upon learning of the arrest of radio journalist Khadija Ismayilova, and calls on the government of Azerbaijan to honor Ismayilova's constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech.
Ismayilova, honored with the IWMF Courage in Journalism Award in 2012, was detained by the police at a peaceful demonstration in Azerbaijan's capital Baku on Saturday, January 26, where crowds had gathered to protest police abuse and arrests that occurred at a rally in the Azerbaijani city of Ismayilli just days earlier.
Ismayilova who hosts a talk show at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Baku, told the IWMF: "The police attacked just to take me. I was screaming asking who they are, as they never introduced themselves and what they want. They carried me towards the car, and they didn't allow me to get into the car myself. They just pushed me into the car. I was on the floor and couldn't move in order not to harm myself in the roughly moving car, due to the stomach operation I recently had, I have to be very careful with movements."
"The police attacked just to take me. I was screaming. They just pushed me into the car. I was on the floor and couldn't move."
She was held for seven hours and charged with violation of Article 298.2 of the Law on The Freedom of Assembly - participation in a non-sanctioned gathering. “My lawyer was denied access to me both in the police station and the court,” Ismayilova told the IWMF. She was fined 400 AZN (approx. $510) and released.
“These fines are a new thing”, Ismayilova explained. “A couple of months ago they changed the law introducing punishment for participation in non-sanctioned rallies. The government doesn't authorize any protest rally in this country, so all rallies are non-sanctioned.”
This is not the first time Ismayilova has been the subject of attempts to silence her. She has been the victim of regular slander campaigns in pro-government media while investigating corruption and power abuse among her country’s elite. The Azerbaijani president has personally tried to have her fired.
"Silence is what these regimes need."
In May of 2012, Ismayilova became the target of a massive smear campaign threatening to defame her and put her life at risk unless she stopped reporting. This included an anonymous letter with photos from surveillance cameras planted in Ismayilova’s apartment, depicting her in an intimate situation with her boyfriend. It was made clear that she would stop her reporting, or risk having the photos made public. During the many attempts to discredit her, Ismayilova has refused to stop working and has publicly denounced her accusers.
Ismayilova’s investigations into government corruption are dangerous, she acknowledges. But “it doesn’t seem a good enough reason to stop doing it,” she told the IWMF. “Silence is what these regimes need. Power and the lack of checks and balances ensure access of corrupt officials to vast resources. Silence helps them to continue depriving their people of opportunities. Silence is supported by police truncheons and assassins’ bullets inside the country and geopolitical interests internationally.”
Download press release (pdf)