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Taking On Corruption In Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan -- Nushabe Fatullayeva, RFE/RL Azeri Service investigation journalist, Baku, April 10, 2013.
Azerbaijan -- Nushabe Fatullayeva, RFE/RL Azeri Service investigation journalist, Baku, April 10, 2013.
Nushabe Fatullayeva never saw herself as an investigative reporter. Rather than combing through page after page of financial statements and corporate data, she was much more interested in meeting people, reporting on their problems, and telling human stories.

But what Fatullayeva discovered was that in Azerbaijan, a complex web of corruption can lie behind many of the injustices people face in their daily lives, and the truth can only be reached through investigative reporting.

While interviewing residents of an Azeri village who were complaining that they had been robbed of their land and water supply, she found that though the locals blamed a British development company for their plight, the real engine behind the development was much closer to home.

In the course of her investigation Fatullayeva found that although the company was registered in the U.K., it was actually a Panamanian company backed by one of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s daughters.

Fatullayeva and her RFE/RL colleague Khadija Ismayilova teamed up on subsequent investigations into the dubious business dealings of the Alijev family, and Ismayilova has since been the target of a smear campaign which included the online posting of an explicit video containing intimate and illegally obtained images of her.

Media freedom in Azerbaijan is severely restricted, according to Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, and the country is perceived as highly corrupt, according to Transparency International. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) named Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev its 2012 "Organized Crime and Corruption Person of the Year."

Fatullayeva recently discussed the threats to journalists in Azerbaijan and the country’s continued need for professional investigative reporting in an RFE/RLive broadcast.

While threats to the privacy and physical safety of journalists are universal and don’t discriminate based on gender, Fatullayeva said she finds herself more vulnerable as a woman when her reporting takes her alone somewhere late at night, and that she often feels physically intimidated when covering demonstrations due to her small stature.

On the other hand, she also sees an advantage of being a female journalist in that police usually treat her with more respect than her male colleagues.

When prompted to give advice to young women aspiring to become journalists, Fatullayeva recommends "doing your job in a friendly manner" as reporters who are aggressive right away can't get people to open up to them. She adds, "Don't hide your mistakes. Get advice and feedback so that you can learn how to do your job better."

--Emily Thompson/Karisue Wyson