WASHINGTON -- Khadija Ismayilova, a freelancer for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) who has built a reputation in Azerbaijan as a fearless investigative reporter, has been targeted in a blackmail campaign.
Ismayilova received an envelope in the mail today containing photos of a personal nature and a note saying, "Whore, behave. Or you will be defamed."
Ismayilova was defiant in a statement she posted on her Facebook page today writing, "I am convinced and determined that I can withstand any blackmail campaign against me." She adds that "this is not the first time that these acts of blackmail have been used against fellow journalists" and appeals directly to the president of Azerbaijan to investigate these events and "provid[e] protection for my security."
Steven Korn, RFE/RL president, called the incident a "hideous attempt at blackmail that has no place in a civil society. We are proud of Khadija and we stand behind her and her work." Korn said that he plans to raise the incident with Azerbaijani authorities and looks forward to following up with Ismailova personally during a planned trip to Baku next week.
Ismayilova was the Baku bureau chief for Radio Azadliq, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, from 2008 to 2010. She is currently the host of a popular Radio Azadliq talk show, "After Work," and publishes frequent reports for the service.
Ismayilova has won numerous awards for her investigative reports into official corruption in Azerbaijan, including the finances and assets of President Ilham Aliyev and his family members. She recently consulted with the media company CNBC on the production of a television report entitled "Filthy Rich," aired on February 23, that explored the family's real estate holdings in Dubai. She has been interrogated by police on several occasions and has been the subject of slander campaigns in pro-government media.
Azerbaijan consistently scores at the bottom of surveys on democracy and freedom in the world. A report issued by a consortium of human rights and media groups last week to mark the seventh anniversary of the unsolved murder of independent journalist Elmar Huseynov condemns "the continuing cycle of violence against journalists and impunity for their attackers in Azerbaijan."