Azerbaijan: Court Silences Khadija Ismayilova's Final Statement, Considers Verdict
Whatever else it might wish, the Azerbaijani court hearing the controversial case against jailed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova apparently does not wish that she has the last word. As Ismayilova lambasted the court on August 31 for a bumbling trial and the government for corruption, Judge Ramella Allahverdiyeva cut short her final statement before delaying sentencing until September 1.
In her comments, Ismayilova, 39, once again dismissed the criminal charges against her as “funny.” She faces a potential nine years in prison for alleged incitement to suicide, tax evasion, abuse of power, embezzlement, and “illegal business” — charges that most rights activists and Ismayilova herself see as retribution for investigative work that targeted the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
"Illegal business is one [of] my favorite charges," reads an English translation of her statement posted on RFE/RL. "Do you actually know what illegal business means? Illegal business is when the president, prime minister, or a parliament member engages in personal businesses even though they are not supposed to do so. Together with my colleagues, I was very surprised to see our president’s name as the founder of a number of companies registered in the Virgin Islands.”
As Ismayilova, following along these same lines, rebutted the charges against her, prosecutors objected to the statement, claiming it was not related to the case. As is her wont, Judge Allahverdiyeva, who also has been a target of the defendant’s criticism, upheld the objection and the court adjourned before Ismayilova had finished speaking.
In a later interview with RFE/RL’s Azeri-language service, one Azerbaijani lawyer, Khalid Bagirov, termed the prosecutors’ request “outlandish,” and a sign of a “sham” trial.
Amnesty International reached a similar conclusion. "This was yet another unfair trial relying on fabricated charges,” a statement released by the NGO asserts. “The government has stepped up its brutal crackdown on political activists, journalists, human rights defenders."
The government does not appear yet to have commented. Azerbaijan’s pro-government mainstream media, which largely has depicted Ismayilova’s petitions as an attempt to delay the trial, focused on prosecutors’ objection to the final statement and repeated the charges against her.
Access to the last day of the trial was, as always, strictly limited. Representatives of the US, German and Norwegian embassies, however, managed to get in, reported RFE/RL, one of Ismayilova’s employers.*
Few outsiders, though, have high hopes for a fair verdict in Azerbaijan’s increasingly repressive environment. The government has dismissed such characterizations as biased.
But whether in prison or out, Ismayilova pledged in her statement that her investigations will continue. Next target: Azerbaijan’s penitentiary system. After all, she's got access.
*Khadija Ismayilova also has worked as a freelance reporter for EurasiaNet.org.