Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan
2012 Courage in Journalism Award
“It was accidental that I became a journalist,” explains Khadija Ismayilova, a well-known Azerbaijani radio reporter who received international attention when she was blackmailed and publicly defamed in the spring of 2012. “One day, they didn’t have anyone to send to a news conference and they sent me. I came back with a story and…they liked it,” she said. At the time, Ismayilova was working as a translator at the offices of a newspaper in Baku. She was young and trying to help her family by earning extra income. Gradually, Ismayilova traded her job as a translator for one as a reporter. In her early years of the profession, Ismayilova said, “I was not as serious and outspoken.”
Everything changed in 2005, when prominent investigative journalist Elmar Huseynov was murdered near his home in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.
“They killed him at his doorstep. It was March 2, 2005,” Ismayilova remembers. “And the first thing I thought when I heard that he was killed was ‘it’s my responsibility too. It’s my fault as well, because he was doing it alone’…We all were doing this easy journalism and he was doing the uncovering…alone.”
From that day, Ismayilova has made it her mission to ensure that the space of critical investigative reporting is not void in Azerbaijan. She hosts a weekly program on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service, where she reports on corruption and malfeasance in the country’s government and the unethical business dealings of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family.
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News anchor Lesley Stahl and actress Olivia Munn present the
2012 Courage in Journalism Award to Khadija Ismayilova
Lesley Stahl presents the 2012 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award
to Khadija Ismayilova in New York, October 24, 2012
"In Azerbaijan, to be an independent journalist is to be an enemy of the state. And the government has efficient methods for dispatching its enemies.
Dozens of criminal and civil defamation charges are brought against journalists each
year by members of the Azerbaijani government. In the first six months of 2010, the
most recent year catalogued by Human Rights Watch, 62 defamation claims were filed
against reporters and editors by state officials.
in Los Angeles, October 29, 2012
The consequences of these claims range from fines to multi-year prison terms.
Investigative journalists, especially those who report on the president or his business
dealings, are favorite targets of slander in state-run media. Reporters and editors are
labeled as “terrorists”, “enemies of freedom” and worse by government actors.
Khadija Ismayilova is no exception.
She has been interrogated, directly threatened and slandered in national media. In
2009, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev directly tried to have Ismayilova fired from her
job as an investigative reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Efforts to discredit Ismayilova reached new heights in March 2012, when she became
the target of a massive smear campaign that threatened to humiliate her and put her life
at risk unless she stopped reporting ..."
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Khadija Ismayilova at the
2012 Courage in Journalism Award ceremony
Khadija Ismayilova accepts 2012 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award
in New York, October 24, 2012
Khadija Ismayilova: "I am honored to be here with these courageous women, who are
risking their lives every day reporting the truth about the cruelest
regimes. Together with Asmaa Al-Ghoul and Zubeida Mustafa I
share the bitterness for not having Reeyot Alemu here.
Today we stand and speak for every journalist who corrupt
regimes worldwide try to silence by putting them behind bars,
blackmailing and blacklisting, killing or beating them.
Because 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. The silence is so loud, that it might deafen society.
With the consolidation of power and money, crime and
government, accompanied with disabled justice systems,
independent journalists become the main target, as they become
the only means of resistance for society against corruption and
organized crime ..."
Download full speech (pdf)