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International Community Speaks Out To Defend RFE/RL's Khadija Ismailova

Journalist Khadija Ismayilova, pictured here in Baku in February, has made a name for herself as a fearless investigator of official corruption in Azerbaijan.
Media observers and advocacy organizations from around the world are speaking out against an unspeakable act of blackmail designed to sabotage the journalistic work of Khadija Ismailova, an RFE/RL correspondent in Azerbaijan.

Ismailova, who hosts the popular radio talk-show program "After Work" on RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq, has a long record as Azerbaijan's premier investigative journalist. Her award-winning body of reporting has focused on official corruption surrounding Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, and his family's assets.

Recently, she teamed up with CNBC to produce a television report entitled "Filthy Rich," that highlighted the Aliyev family's real estate holdings in Dubai. Last November, RFE/RL named her 2011 investigative feature, "Azerbaijani President's Daughters Tied To Fast-Rising Telecoms Firm," as the company's news story of the year.

Now Ismailova is being targeted in a vicious campaign of personal defamation directed by anonymous sources. On March 7, she received pictures of a personal nature in the mail along with a note reading, "Whore behave. Or you will be defamed." The note warned Ismailova to cease her investigations on pain of being "hugely embarrassed."

"We support Khadija completely and applaud her courage in helping RFE/RL provide the people of Azerbaijan what they cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate," RFE/RL President Steve Korn said. "The value and truth of Khajida's work speak for themselves, and those attempting to blacken her name should be the ones hanging their heads in shame."

The journalist issued a defiant response on her Facebook page. "This threat is not a surprise to me. I have been doing investigative journalism a long time," she said. "The motives of these acts are very well known to the public. It is done to silence people who are outspoken."

After a website began distributing intimate video footage of a woman purportedly identified as Ismailova on March 14, international human rights organizations and free speech advocates rallied to her defense.

"This is a despicable attempt to discredit a journalist in the process of investigating government corruption at the highest level," Amnesty International representative John Dalhuisen said in a statement.

Dalhuisen was joined by Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "We are incensed by this contemptible effort to silence Khadija Ismailova, and demand that Azerbaijani authorities investigate and put a halt to it immediately," Ognianova said.

Below is a sample of the coverage:

Azerbaijan Must Halt Smear Campaign Against Reporter
The Committee To Protect Journalists
March 14, 2012

Smear Campaign Escalates Against RFERL Azerbaijani Reporter
Freedom House
March 14, 2012

Azerbaijani Journalist Vows To Ignore Threats
Doha Center For Media Freedom
March 14, 2012

"Despicable" Campaign To Smear Woman Investigative Reporter
Reporters Sans Frontieres
March 15, 2012

Azerbaijan Must Investigate Smear Campaign Against Radio Free Europe Reporter
Amnesty International
March 15, 2012

Azerbaijan: Investigative Journalist Defiant After Blackmail Threat
Pervin Muradli | Global Voices
March 15, 2012

Azeri Journalist Alleges Blackmail Attempt
Karl Rahder | Foreign Policy Association
March 8, 2012