Investigative Journalism considered “espionage” in Azerbaijan

Journalists in Azerbaijan are frequently repressed to stop broadcasting any material that might be considered in opposition of any of the policies from the present regime and both their freedom and their safety have been threatened in an attempt to silence any kind of reporting that might criticize those in power.

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According to a post on Facebook, Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani journalist from Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has been interrogated by the General Prosecutor on multiple occasions in February stating that she is connected to US spies who are, in fact, Congressional aides, and distributing confidential documents to them as well as to politicians from the local opposition party. Ismayilova firmly states that has neither access to nor possession of any secret information and has accused the government of attempting to intimidate and silence her. No charges have been laid against her but should that occur, she could face incarceration of up to seven years. She is now prevented from leaving the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, without permission of local authorities. Ismayilova has, in the past, been targeted for other journalistic reports with threats and attempted blackmail related to her investigation of President Ilham Aliyev in conjunction to his link to a potential conflict of interest issue around a construction project. Threats included name calling and a promise to shame her.

Azerbaijan is ranked as one of the 20 worst countries in the world for media freedom according to the NGO Reporters without Borders and is considered predatory of journalists. While they do have laws in place governing the freedom of the press journalists continuously face imprisonment, lawsuits and threats in attempting to report the news. The internet and social media suffers continuous interference from governing bodies and broadcasts by news agencies are frequently impossible.

Any opposition of ruling parties is met with authoritarian response and reporters have been held in prison for their work, often detained through abduction and told to cease any government criticisms. Both Ganimat Zahid of the Azadlig and Avaz Zeynalli of the Khural have been jailed.

Journalists are being accused of treason and espionage and politicians and other world media are now more frequently speaking out in defense of media workers in Azerbaijan. The Commission Chairman on Security and Cooperation in Europe, US Senator Benjamin Cardin, is apprehensive of the safety of journalists and speaks out on the attacks on them stating that charges have been “clearly fabricated”. He is calling for their government as a member of the commission to step in and end the harassment of the press.

Ismayilova has stated that she is aware that she may be arrested but that she won’t allow it to deter her in her pursuit of the truth. She calls to action any international proponents of freedom of speech to come forward in support of this mission for her and for all other journalists working in Azerbaijan. She is currently working on a number of investigative pieces that are in the hands of others who will publish them on her behalf should anything happen to her.

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