Azerbaijan: When Blackmail Is a State Secret, Not a Crime
Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova has been branded in her homeland as being everything and anything -- a woman of loose morals, a spy, or, worse, an Armenian -- to change the subject from the signs of high-level wrongdoing she exposes. Her latest exposé has been followed by an accusation of leaking state secrets to a delegation of supposed US spies that Azerbaijan’s state-controlled media claims visited Baku to collect intelligence in broad daylight.
Azerbaijani prosecutors, though, did not evince much interest in the revelation of an alleged act of blackmail by the government. It is the exposure of such blackmail that seems to count as a transgression. After Ismayilova made public documents implicating security agencies in recruiting opposition party members as informers and agents provocateurs, the Ministry of National Security launched an investigation into the potential leakage of a state secret.
For Ismayilova, the summons came as a long-awaited confirmation of the authenticity of the documents, which suggested that the national security ministry used bribes and secret recordings of opposition members' private lives to infiltrate the opposition camp. “Since the prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the disclosure of state secrets, that means that this document is real,” she told the Russian service of the BBC.
Investigators, she said, have pressured her to disclose who provided her with the documents. Her refusal to comply may result in a six-month prison sentence.
The investigators have not yet brought charges against Ismayilova, whose bold investigative work for RFE/RL has made her a household name in Azerbaijan. So far, she is considered a witness in the case.
Meanwhile, pressure is being brought to bear on others, as well, including a co-worker of Ismayilova at RFE/RL, Yafez Hasanov, who has received a death threat for his reporting, the broadcaster said. The pro-government media that usually try to provide the context for any controversial investigations, though, have been quick to allege that Ismayilova handed over the files to a visiting delegation of US spies. The US embassy in Baku described the allegations as “absurd,” saying that the group in question was congressional staff on a routine visit to Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor's office appears to have made no progress with another controversial case, now nearly two years old -- that of the publication of a secretly filmed video depicting Ismayilova in an intimate situation. So far, pro-government media outlets have not provided us with the reason why.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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