With Azerbaijan’s prisons increasingly full of government-detractors, it might have seemed to many only a matter of time before Azerbaijani prosecutors would again focus on Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent journalist known for her exposés of government corruption. Speaking from Strasbourg, Ismayilova told EurasiaNet.org that she expects to be arrested on October 3, upon her return home to Baku from a trip to Europe.
Ismayilova received a court summons on charges of criminal libel during this trip, travel intended to relay what is widely seen as a wholesale crackdown on civil society in the energy-rich, ex-Soviet republic. An award-winning RFE/RL reporter who also has worked for EurasiaNet.org, Ismayilova needs to appear in court the day she returns to Baku.
“I will be arriving with a lawyer and my main lawyer will be waiting [in Baku],” she said.
Her trip was closely watched in Baku. At one human-rights talk in Warsaw, hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Ismayilova and several other participants, wearing t-shirts with the photos of Azerbaijani political prisoners, turned their backs on a presentation on human-rights issues, which, they charged, lacquered over ongoing repressions. Azerbaijan’s government-linked media was quick to attack Ismayilova, claiming she was commanding a group of people from Armenia, the country’s longtime foe.
The claim is a familiar line. Using loyal media as a mouthpiece, Azerbaijani officials are wont to reduce criticism against them as part of the workings of the enemy-state. Earlier this summer, one government-affiliated newspaper ran an article called “Khadija’s Armenian Mother Should Die,” which drew condemnation from the US embassy in Baku.
The ranks of Azerbaijanis willing to risk such smears (and worse) and chastise the government publicly for alleged abuses of civil rights have thinned notably this year, however. With arrests running rampant, many outside observers wonder how Azerbaijan came to chair the commitee of ministers of the Council of Europe, the continent's main human rights body.
The reported charges against Ismayilova, though, do not involve the frequent accusations of tax evasion, espionage or illegal narcotics.
Rather, she says, they are linked to her posting on Facebook a file that she claims proves that the Azerbaijani security services record sex-tapes to blackmail dissenters into cooperation. Ismayilova herself was targeted by the online publication of such a video in 2012.
Though she does not have high hopes for a fair trial, she says that the charges against her will not scare her away from coming back to Azerbaijan.
The arrests of Azerbaijani opposition members, journalists and democracy activists have drawn widespread condemnation in the West, but, so far, the criticism has yet to translate into any real action.
Correction: This post originally stated that Ismayilova had posted a video on her Facebook page that she claims proves the security services' involvement in filming sex-videos to blackmail government-critics. The material posted was actually a file.