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Ismayilova Featured In "Spiegel" Azerbaijan Media Freedom Report

The German news magazine "Der Spiegel" focused on the attempted blackmail of RFE/RL correspondent Khadija Ismayilova in an article examining the state of media freedom in Azerbaijan during the runup to the annual "Eurovision" song contest, which is to be held in Baku in May.

An excerpt of the article can be found below; please visit "Der Spiegel's" website to read the original in English or in German.


Big Brother in Baku:
Azerbaijan Flouts Free Press on Eve of Eurovision

By Annette Langer in Baku, Azerbaijan

On March 7, Khadijah Ismailova received an anonymous letter containing an envelope with six photos of an "intimate nature" as she calls it. Included was this message: "Slut -- behave or you will be dishonored." Only one week later, a video of the journalist having sex with her boyfriend was posted on the Internet. At the same time, two newspapers that are loyal to the government accused her of lax morals and indicated where the videos could be found.

Ismailova sits astride a chair decorated with an inlay pattern, her arms draped over its back. Outside the house, which belongs to a friend, looms the skyline of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, where the Eurovision Song Contest is set to take place in just a few week's time. Ismailova has dark circles under her eyes; recent weeks have left her visably exhausted. "The government humiliated me and transformed me into an object, but society has stood up for me," she said in a solemn tone.

Ismailova has ceased receiving guests in her apartment since she realized it had been bugged with cameras and microphones -- in the living room, maybe in the bathroom, but above all in the bedroom. The journalist has no doubt that high-level civil servants are behind the film: "They thought I'd back down, but that was a miscalculation. If I had taken one step back, I would have been done," she said. Her stubbornness paid off: Even media loyal to the government distanced themselves from showing the secretly filmed videos or photos.