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Azerbaijan's "Spy Network" Charge Escalates Pressure On RFE/RL Journalists

Composite photo of RFE/RL Azerbaijani service journalists Khadija Ismayilova and Yafez Hasanov
Composite photo of RFE/RL Azerbaijani service journalists Khadija Ismayilova and Yafez Hasanov
Accusations of espionage were made against two journalists from RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service this week, marking an escalation of longstanding campaigns to silence them.

Investigative reporter and Radio Azadliq journalist Khadija Ismayilova was summoned to Azerbaijan's Prosecutor General's office February 18 as a witness in a criminal case for revealing state secrets, several days after media reports accused her of spying for the U.S. Also this week, Radio Azadliq correspondent Yafez Hasanov received death threats and accusations of working as a "foreign agent" via Facebook.

An article published on February 13 on, a pro-government website, accused Ismayilova of passing along information discrediting members of Azerbaijan's political opposition to two U.S. congressional staffers who were in Baku, allegedly to gather intelligence.

The article was picked up by other pro-government media and amplified by leading members of the Azeri parliament, who demanded an investigation of Ismayilova and referred to RFE/RL as a "spy network of the U.S. in Azerbaijan."

Developments escalated Tuesday when Azeri authorities opened a criminal case against Ismayilova after she posted a scan to her Facebook page that appears to be a contract used by the Ministry of National Security to hire an informer. Stipulating terms and threatening blackmail, the document suggests evidence of the government's efforts to infiltrate the political opposition.

RFE/RL President and CEO Kevin Klose called these latest attacks "alarming," adding, "Accusations of espionage in pro-government media against dissidents and independent voices were common during the Soviet era, and we are seeing them again in many of the states that emerged from the Soviet Union. These latest accusations are absurd -- and dangerous. I believe they are politically motivated and fabricated to persecute our colleagues."

The U.S. Embassy in Baku in a statement today also called the allegations of intelligence gathering "absurd."