We are a nongovernmental organization with a longstanding interest in improving the serious freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan. We write ahead of World Press Freedom Day to call on your government to demand the immediate and unconditional release of the 2016 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner, journalist Khadija Ismayilova in Azerbaijan.
Khadija Ismayilova was a pioneer in exposing large-scale corruption connected to the ruling family in Azerbaijan.
It is precisely for her groundbreaking reporting that Ismayilova has been languishing behind bars since December 2014. In September 2015, she was sentenced to prison for seven and a half years on charges of tax evasion and illegal business activities.
Prior to her arrest in December 2014, Khadija Ismayilova, together with journalists from Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), exposed the large-scale illegal enrichment schemes employed by Azerbaijan’s ruling family, namely the use of offshore companies registered in Panama.
We urge Member States to speak out against unjust imprisonment of Khadija Ismayilova and to demand the Azerbaijani authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally; and in the event of their refusal, to apply sanctions against Azerbaijanis named in Panama Papers. Demanding Ismayilova’s release from all regions will be essential to show that the world stands in solidarity with journalists who work in states where their voices are muffled.
This approach is the best way for the international community to encourage Azerbaijan to make genuine progress in its respect for human rights, while sending an unequivocal signal that it is prepared to stand with Khadija Ismayilova and free press in Azerbaijan.
Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety