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Smear Tactics Draw Outrage, Illustrate Threats To Journalists

Scan of letter to President Ilham Aliyev by members of EU Parliament in support of Khadija Ismailova, Mar2012
The European Parliament and numerous international organizations have condemned a defamation campaign against RFE/RL correspondent Khadija Ismailova.

In a letter addressed to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, ten members of the European Parliament call the smear tactics against her "an act of intimidation" related to her professional activities, and place the incidents "in a broader context of deteriorating environment [sic] for democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan."

The full-page appeal urges the President to "protect the dignity and integrity of Khadija Ismail and other journalists and human rights defenders and guarantee their right to exercise their profession without the fear of timidation, blackmail and violence."

Elnur Aslanov, Chairman of the Information Department of the Administration of President Ilham Aliyev, issued an official reaction in yesterday, attributing the campaign to "provocative forces attempting to break the stability in Azerbaijan, harm the country’s international image and cause tension and confusion in the society." Aslanov said, "the Azerbaijani government strictly condemns the interference to the privacy of Khadija Ismayilova," and that "relevant law enforcement structures...will do their utmost to expose and punish those standing behind this dirty act."

Reporters without Borders (RSF), the Paris-based media watchdog, called the tactics "despicable" in a statement that documents several incidents in which independent Azeri journalists were subject to public acts of humiliation and intimidation.

RSF has launched an on-line petition to support Ismailova.

Freedom House condemned the attack on Ismailova last week, citing the "dire state of freedom of expression" in Azerbaijan and calling for an investigation and official guarantees to protect the safety of the country's journalists.