Politics 12:30 02/09/2015

Int’l response: Verdict against Khadija Ismayilova is Azerbaijan authorities’ revenge against critics

International watchdog Reporters Without Borders issued a statement saying it is appalled by the sentence of seven and a half years in prison that a Baku court passed on leading investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

“Khadija Ismayilova’s long jail sentence is unfortunately no surprise because the Azerbaijani judicial system’s function seems to be to provide state repression with a veneer of legality,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Ismayilova’s only crime was to investigate high-level government corruption with courage and persistence. This trial sends a very powerful intimidatory message to all her fellow journalists in Azerbaijan.”

Reporters Without Borders called for the immediate and unconditional release of Ismayilova and the 11 other journalists and bloggers held in Azerbaijan in connection with their reporting, and urged Baku’s international partners to raise her case in all bilateral talks.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe ThorbjørnJagland also condemned  the verdict in the case of Khadija Ismayilova. “As he has done regarding the convictions of Leyla and ArifYunus, Secretary General Jagland will request from the Azerbaijani authorities the full details of the judgment and the evidence presented against Khadija Ismayilova,” his spokesperson said in a statement. “The Council of Europe reiterates its concerns about the systemic deficiencies in the Azerbaijani judicial system and the worrying trend of increasing cases against human rights defenders and journalists, which has a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country.”

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, DunjaMijatović, and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, came up with a joint statement. “The charges brought against Ismayilova, and the trial, are unjust; they constitute yet another clear signal that the authorities are continuing to silence critical voices in Azerbaijan,” Mijatović said. “Khadija Ismayilova pays for her courageous work as investigative journalist in a country where critical voices are muzzled one after the other. This sentence strikes yet another blow to respect for human rights and adherence to democracy and the rule of law in Azerbaijan,” Muižnieks added.

UK Minister for Europe, David Lidington, said  he is deeply troubled by the Azerbaijani journalist’s arrest. “I’m concerned by reports regarding the conduct of the trial and urge the Azerbaijani authorities to review her case in a transparent and fair manner,” he stressed.

Human Right Watch urged  the Azerbaijani authorities to “immediately move to set aside the conviction” and release her. “The outrageous verdict against Khadija Ismayilova shows the Azerbaijani authorities’ willingness to subvert the law to exact revenge against critics,” said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth.

The European Union and its member states in particular should mount a strong, unified response to the appalling state of human rights in Azerbaijan. Such a response should include freezing negotiations on a new Strategic Partnership Agreement with Baku and taking action in other multilateral bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council, to censor Azerbaijan over its atrocious human rights record. The voting rights of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should be suspended, HRW said.

The Sport for Rights coalition released a statement  strongly condemning the verdict handed to Khadija Ismayilova calling it an “outrageous” ending to the “grotesque proceedings” against her. The coalition called on the internationalcommunity to take up all the possible measures to release Ismayilova. Sport for Rights believes that in jailing Ismayilova, the Azerbaijani authorities sought to silence her critical voice before the country faced increased international media attention during the inaugural European Games.
“We demand that the government cease this unprecedented witch-hunt against journalists and their family members,” says the statement signed by over 20 human rights organizations, including Article 19, Civil Rights Defenders, CPJ, Front Line Defenders, HRHF, Freedom Now, Index oncensorship, FIDH, International Media Support and others.

Thomas Hughes, executive director of ARTICLE 19, recalled that prior to her arrest, Ismayilova had stated she did not want any quiet diplomacy on her behalf. “Similar to other Azerbaijani political prisoners, comprising of other journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and activists, Khadija has been handed down a lengthy sentence on politically motivated charges, the sole aim of which appears to be restricting legitimate criticism of authorities,” he said. Hughes believes such stifling of freedom of expression is unacceptable, and should not be tolerated by those engaging with Azerbaijan.

“This was yet another unfair trial relying on fabricated charges. The government has stepped up its brutal crackdown on political activists, journalists, human rights defenders - indeed anyone who dares to publicly raise a critical voice,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova stated  Khadija Ismayilova's trial was a farce, yet the consequences for her, and for all Azerbaijani journalists, are “gravely serious.” Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Baku's international partners to stop turning a blind eye to the country's human rights abuses.

“The message is clear — no homegrown defiance of President Aliyev's authority will be tolerated. Nor will the government consider Western exhortations to stop harassment of government critics,” Eurasianet.org writes.

According to BBC , Khadija Ismayilova has made life difficult for the Azerbaijani government for years,as one of Azerbaijan's best-known journalists.

Turan agency writes that Ismayilova’s relatives are not surprised at the verdict. Elmira Ismayilova, the journalist’s mother, said after the trial that she was calm for daughter and proud of her. “Khadija listened to the verdict very firmly and with a smile on her face, as always. Shesaid, go and tell everyone, ‘I am strong, I will survive everything. People fighting for a true case can stand deprivations and punishment.’ Khadija sent her love to her supporters,” she said.

Elmira Ismayilova believes the government of Azerbaijan is afraid of her daughter and that is the reason they sent her into prison, yet it is impossible to silence her. “She will continue speaking and writing. She is a fighter and she calls on everybody not to be afraid and go to struggle. What can I say to the government that sentenced Khadija for investigating their businesses? Just one thing: either correct yourselves or leave,” the journalist’s mother said.

Ismayilova's defense lawyer FarizNamazly told Reuters  she planned to appeal against the verdict. "The sentencing is not justified and has been pre-ordered," he said.

On 1 September 2015, Baku Court of Grave Crimes handed down a 7.6 years prison sentence to the Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova. The court found her guilty of the Articles 179 (embezzlement and misappropriation), 192 (illegal business), 213 (tax evasion) and 308 (abuse of power) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Ismayilova was cleared from the article 125 (incitement to commit suicide) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan. Earlier, the public prosecutor, RamazanHadiyev, had claimed 9 years of imprisonment for Khadija Ismayilova.

Khadija Ismayilova sentenced to 7.6 years in prison for unmasking IlhamAliyev’s personal business 
Azerbaijan: The more HR defenders behind bars, the easier to stage “democratic” elections 

Source Panorama.am
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