INSTITUTE FOR REPORTERS’ FREEDOM AND SAFETY STATEMENT ON BLACKMAIL ATTEMPT AGAINST KHADIJA ISMAYILOVA

March 9th, 2012
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety strongly condemns the blackmail attempt against RFE/RL reporter Khadija Ismayilova, a low and ugly act seeking to silence a journalist.

On March 7, award-winning Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova received an envelope in the post containing photos of intimate nature and a threatening note. The letter says that unless she stops ‘behaving improperly’, she will be 'defamed'.

 

Ismayilova has written numerous investigative articles exposing corruption among high-ranking Azerbaijan officials and their families, causing public scandal. She has been targeted by pro-government forces prior to this incident. The state media has repeatedly published smear articles containing false information about Ismayilova.

 

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 attack on Khadija Ismayilova, to free all journalists arrested for political reasons, to identify and apprehend the perpetrators of the murders of Elmar Huseynov and Rafig Tagi, and to demonstrate tolerance towards the freedom of expression.

 

In light of Azerbaijan’s obligation to protect freedom of expression undertaken before the UN, Council of Europe and OSCE, IRFS calls on these international organizations to remain aware of the freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan and to demand that Azerbaijani government respect the rights of journalists.