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The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety strongly condemns the ongoing smear campaign against investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova who has been extensively reporting on Azerbaijan’s government corruption. The most recent episode in the wave of vicious attacks against Ismayilova involves a video of an intimate nature being posted on the internet on 29 July. IRFS calls on the authorities to carry out a swift investigation into the continued harassment of Ismayilova, ensure her safety, and bring the culprits to justice.
‘This ugly assault highlights the failure of the Azerbaijani government to adequately protect its citizens. It also illustrates the hostile climate for journalists in Azerbaijan and the critical state of the media freedom’, IRFS CEO and Chair Emin Huseynov said.
IRFS reminds that Ismayilova was similarly targeted in March 2012 when an intimate video of her filmed by hidden camera was posted to the Internet. Ismayilova had refused to be silenced and continued her groundbreaking investigative reporting. The Azerbaijani authorities have failed to seriously investigate the attack against Ismayilova, and no one has been brought to justice.
Ismayilova has written numerous investigative articles exposing corruption among high-ranking Azerbaijan officials and their families, causing public scandal. She is increasingly targeted by pro-government forces because of her reporting. The pro-government media has repeatedly published smear articles containing false information about Ismayilova. ‘The participation of pro-government media and the people calling themselves human rights defenders in this disgraceful smear campaign is depressing. Some of them not only smear Ismayilova, but also make calls that can put her life in danger. We are sure that those people are fulfilling the politically-motivated orders of the authorities’, comments Huseynov. ‘We call on them to stick to their ethical responsibilities and respect human rights, and urge them to refrain from further involvement into this vicious campaign’.
IRFS believes that local intelligence agencies are behind this nasty act. Ismayilova is not the first Azerbaijani journalist to fall victim to such an attack. Other victims include editor-in-chief of Azadliq newspaper Ganimat Zahid, finance director Azer Ahmadov and reporters Natig Gulahmadoglu and Gan Tural. Video clips containing intimate scenes were posted on internet, in violation of the journalists’ privacy. This pattern indicates that the Azerbaijani government, illegally deploying the technical and human resources of intelligence agencies, repeatedly organizes centralized smear campaigns against journalists who publish material critical of the government.
IRFS regrets to note that the Azerbaijani government employs a range of tactics in opposition to free expression, including arrests of journalists, lack of commitment to investigations of assassinations of journalists, and illegal violation of the right to privacy.
IRFS recalls that the first provocation of this kind occurred in February 2005, with Ganimar Zahid and Azer Ahmadov as victims. A week after this incident – on March 2, 2005, well-known independent journalist Elmar Huseynov was shot dead on his doorstep.
Natig Gulahmadoglu and Gan Tural have also been targeted with secret camera in recent years. A few months ago, journalist-writer Rafig Tagi was murdered and four journalists were arrested under false charges in Azerbaijan.
Nonetheless, impunity prevails. None of these cases has resulted in the arrest or conviction of the perpetrators, leading to suspicion that that state officials are behind the criminal actions against these journalists.
IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to identify and punish the person or persons behind the attacks on Khadija Ismayilova, to end all forms of impunity for those who attack or kill journalists and ensure that all cases of violence against journalists are resolved and all guilty parties are punished in accordance with the law.
In light of Azerbaijan’s obligation to protect freedom of expression undertaken before the UN, EU, Council of Europe and OSCE, IRFS calls on these international organizations to demand actions, not just words, from the Azerbaijani government, using all possible bilateral and multilateral opportunities to hold Azerbaijan to account for its freedom of expression and human rights obligations.
IRFS urges international organizations, and namely, UNESCO and OSCE to call upon the Azerbaijani government and law enforcement agencies to end all forms of impunity for violence against journalists and ensure that all cases are adequately investigated and those responsible are brought to justice.