WASHINGTON -- The announcement by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney that she will defend RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova before the European Court of Human Rights has raised the profile of the case along with hopes among media freedom advocates that the additional attention will help secure Ismayilova’s release.
Ismayilova told RFE/RL today through her Baku lawyer that she accepted Clooney’s offer because of the courage Clooney demonstrated while defending imprisoned Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy in Egypt in 2014.
RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic welcomed the announcement, saying “Amal Clooney’s decision to take the case is a powerful affirmation of Khadija and her journalism,” adding, “It’s a triumph for media freedom already. I know that with their combined strength they will win.”
Ismayilova, an internationally recognized investigative journalist from Azerbaijan, was sentenced in September, 2015 to over seven years in prison on spurious tax and finance-related charges that are widely believed to have been brought in retaliation for her reporting on corruption linked to members of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family. Not a single witness testified against Ismayilova in a trial that rights groups called a "sham."
International criticism of the Azerbaijani government and Ismayilova’s imprisonment reached a high point in December, 2015 with the introduction of H.R.4264, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act. Introduced by Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), the bill would impose sanctions on Azerbaijani officials implicated in human rights abuses.
Clooney will represent Ismayilova together with Nani Jansen, head of the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative.