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The Case, The Verdict, and Media Freedom in Azerbaijan

Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil (2014)
Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil (2014)

On September 1, an Azerbaijani court sentenced investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova to 7 1/2 years in prison, on charges widely believed to be retribution by Azeri authorities for her reporting on corruption involving the country’s ruling family.

This edition of RFE/RLive will examine the proceedings that led to the verdict and what could happen now. What is being done to support journalists who fall victim to crackdowns by authoritarian governments, and what more can be done to support media freedom and freedom of expression in repressive environments like Azerbaijan?


RFE/RLive: The Case, The Verdict, and
Media Freedom in Azerbaijan

Join us live on YouTube and Google+

Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Washington, D.C.--11:00 a.m. / Prague--5:00 p.m. / Baku--8:00 p.m.

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Karin Deutsch Karlekar directs PEN America’s Free Expression Programs, focusing on global press freedom, digital rights, and broad freedom of expression issues. In May 2015, PEN awarded Khadija Ismayilova with the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, for a writer imprisoned for his or her work. Prior to joining PEN, she served from 2001-15 as director of Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press project, coordinating the production of a flagship annual report that tracks trends in global media freedom and rates every country in the world. As well as acting as an expert spokesperson on press freedom issues, Karlekar has developed index methodologies and conducted training sessions on press freedom, internet freedom, freedom of expression, and monitoring dangerous speech; authored a number of special reports and academic papers; and conducted research, assessment, and advocacy missions to Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Rachel Denber is Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch, where she specializes in countries of the former Soviet Union. On August 10, Human Rights Watch announced that it had awarded Ismayilova the 2015 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism. Previously, Denber directed Human Rights Watch's Moscow office and did field research and advocacy in Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. She has authored reports on a wide range of human rights issues throughout the region. Denber earned a bachelor's degree from Rutgers University in international relations and a master's degree in political science from Columbia University, where she studied at the Harriman Institute. She speaks Russian and French.

Kenan Aliyev is the Executive Editor of "Current Time," the joint RFE/RL-VOA Russian-language television news program serving Russian-speakers in the countries bordering Russia. Until early 2015, Aliyev was also Director of RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2004, Aliyev worked in Washington, DC as a broadcaster for Voice of America and was also a regular contributor to the BBC World Service. Aliyev served as a Baku-based reporter for RFE/RL’s Russian Service and for the local, independent "Azadliq" newspaper before immigrating to the US in 1997.

John M. Donnelly joined Congressional Quarterly in 2004 and is now a senior writer, covering defense and foreign policy issues. He worked previously at Defense Week, where he won many awards for investigative journalism. He has written for numerous other publications, from the Los Angeles Times to the Economist magazine, and has been featured on broadcast news programs, including ABC World News Tonight and NBC’s Meet the Press. Donnelly has been active in the leadership of the National Press Club since 2001 and chairs its Press Freedom Committee. In June 2015, the National Press Club awarded Khadija Ismayilova its John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award. He also served on the Standing Committee of Correspondents of the U.S. Congress, which accredits reporters. He is a graduate of the College of William & Mary in Virginia.

Arzu Geybulla is an Azeri blogger and journalist who runs a live blog on the case of jailed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, and has written extensively about Azerbaijan for local and international media. A former Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow with RFE/RL, Geybulla is co-director and managing editor of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation, a Washington D.C.-based NGO. She has been featured in Al Jazeera English, The Economist, Global Voices, and Huffington Post Live.

Daisy Sindelar (moderator) is RFE/RL's Regional Broadcasting Director for Europe. A former senior correspondent for RFE/RL, Sindelar specializes in examining ordinary people and the challenges they encounter living in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and is particularly interested in the problems facing women, children, and minorities. Based in Prague, she has also reported from Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.