Azerbaijan: Sex, Blacklists and Audio
The posting of a new online video depicting intimate moments from the private life of corruption-busting Azerbaijani reporter Khadija Ismayilova has displayed the depth of the civil-rights challenge Azerbaijan is facing as it heads into this October's presidential vote.
Such videos first surfaced in 2012, after Ismayilova had begun investigating questionable business investments by members of President Ilham Aliyev's family. The footage came with a threat that Ismayilova, then reporting for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, stop her scrutiny of the deals. She did not, and, now, last week, another installment appeared.
While the Azerbaijani government initially pledged an investigation into these Peeping-Tom flics, no official results other than that statement have emerged. Meanwhile, international and domestic media, human rights groups and others continue to rally to Ismayilova's support.* On August 3, a group of mostly female journalists, some holding posters declaring "My home, my bed are not corruption," staged a protest against the renewed video-smear campaign. (And were detained, though later released.)
Perhaps, though, the government has not yet managed to unmask the identities of those behind these videos because it has been too busy with other tasks.
The energy-booming country is sparing no effort or money to assert itself as a lavish host of international cultural, sports and business events, to show itself to be a regional power and a fun place for tourists to be.
And, not to mention, for voters to be. It's got a presidential election coming up -- now set for October 9 -- and an incumbent president who wants another five years in office, for the third time running.
So, please, let's not risk splattering Azerbaijan's image with any more controversy or criticism just now, the thinking seems to be.
In keeping with that mood, the foreign ministry has just published a list of 335 people from around the world who from now on will not be able to include Azerbaijan among their travel destinations. The list comes as a tit-for-tat for the individuals' travel -- where for work or curiosity or what have you -- to breakaway Nagorno Karabakh. Or, as News.az put it, to identify "unscrupulous tourists, operators and employees."
Among such "tourists, operators and employees" are Spanish opera diva Montserrat Caballe and the European Union’s former envoy to the South Cauasus, Peter Semneby, as well as scores of academics, diplomats and journalists.
Lithuanian and Azerbaijani news services have reported over the past few days that telephone conversations between Zhurauskas and other LIthuanian diplomats, containing what Baku claimed were "pro-Armenian" sentiments, had been posted on YouTube, with English subtitles. (EurasiaNet.org could not find the recordings.)
After Azerbaijan charged that the conversations were a "provocation," Ambassador Zhurauskas resigned from his post. In an August 2 statement, the Lithuanian foreign ministry, however, asserted that the resignation was on the ambassador's own initiative, and said that it is continuing to investigate the recordings.
*Khadija Ismayilova also has worked as a freelance reporter for EurasiaNet.org.