Khadija Ismailova, a Baku-based journalist who has written for a variety of media outlets, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani Service and EurasiaNet.org, has disclosed receiving a threat intended to stop her from pursuing investigative reporting projects concerning official corruption.
In going public about the blackmail attempt, Ismailova said she will not be deterred from pursuing her investigative work. “I am convinced and determined that I can withstand any blackmail campaign against me. I will continue my professional activity,” Ismailova said in a statement posted on Facebook.
The blackmail episode began March 7, when Ismailova said she received an envelope sent to her home address. According to her account, inside the envelope were “some photos of an intimate character.” An accompanying note warned: “You whore, behave or you will be dishonored.”
“It [the letter] says if I don’t stop working, I will be hugely embarrassed,” she added.
Commenting on the incident to EurasiaNet.org, Ismailova said she is currently working on several investigative projects, including one involving potential top-level corruption surrounding contracts handed out for the refurbishment of National Flag Square in central Baku.
Ismailova expressed the belief that the timing of the blackmail attempt may also be connected to the fast-approaching Eurovision contest, the finals of which will be held in the Azerbaijani capital in May. A variety of civil society groups in Baku want to use the occasion to raise international awareness about the Azerbaijani government’s poor record on protecting basic civil rights.
In its recently released Freedom of the World 2012 report, the global watchdog Freedom House described Azerbaijan as “a decade-long trend of setbacks” concerning democratization. On a scale on one to seven, with seven representing the most repressive, the report gave Azerbaijan a six for political rights and a five for civil liberties, designating the country as “not free.”
In her Facebook statement, Ismailova said she wasn’t surprised to be on the receiving end of a threat related to her journalistic activities “For a long time my journalistic activity has been the source of concern for the government,” she said. “I have been a subject of attacks and slander in pro-government newspapers. I have been absurdly accused of having Armenian relatives and working for foreign intelligence.”
Ismailova called on President Ilham Aliyev to take "responsibility for what may happen and provide protection for my security." As of the evening of March 8, she said she has not received any official reaction to her public appeal.