WASHINGTON - An Azeri court ruled on May 14 to extend the imprisonment of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor who was jailed last December in what is widely viewed as an act of retribution by Azeri authorities for exposing corruption linked to the country’s ruling family.
“We’re profoundly disappointed. Her imprisonment has nothing to do with any wrongdoing or law, it is about silencing Khadija and RFE/RL, by any means necessary, period,” said RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic.
The new ruling continues her detention until August 24.
Ismayilova was arrested on December 5 and initially charged with inciting a man to attempt suicide. The man later withdrew the accusation, but authorities leveled new charges against Ismayilova in February alleging tax evasion, illegal business activities, and abuse of power.
The latter charges derive from a broad-based attack against RFE/RL that the government launched last December. Authorities labeled RFE/RL journalists as "spies," raided and closed the company's Baku bureau, interrogated over 25 of its staff members and banned several from traveling outside the country, terminated the bureau’s lease, and recently froze the bank accounts of several free-lancers, preventing them from being paid.
Pejic said, “We will not let this attack on us and our people and RFE/RL families pass with impunity,” and indicated that the company is taking all steps to defend its rights and interests against the government's actions.
Ismayilova received the PEN American Center’s prestigious Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on May 5 for her “hard-hitting investigations.”
On the eve of the first European Games, which Baku will host in June, a group of prominent writers and editors have written to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach urging him to demand Ismayilova's release and condemn human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.
RFE/RL is a private, independent international news organization whose programs -- radio, Internet, television, and mobile -- reach influential audiences in 21 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).