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RFE/RL in the Crosshairs in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan’s most prominent investigative reporter, Khadija Ismayilova remains in extended pre-trial detention, awaiting her day in court to face a variety of criminal charges. Meanwhile, Ismayilova’s fellow reporters at the Azeri service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are experiencing a rising level of harassment.
 
Authorities seem intent on turning the screws slowly on Ismayilova. On February 23, following a closed-door trial, she was found guilty of libel and fined the equivalent of $2,400. Ismayilova was originally arrested on December 5 on charges of incitement of suicide. She denies all charges. Media freedom monitors consider the criminal case against her to be politically motivated.        
 
In a recently published letter to The Washington Post, Ismayilova says she has no access to news and her family members are not allowed to visit her. “My cellmates are also my new audience, that most precious thing that every journalist must have, even a journalist whom the government is trying to silence,” Ismayilova wrote.
 
These days, Azerbaijani authorities are paying more attention to others with an RFE/RL affiliation. For example, Babek Bakirov, RFE/RL’s former Baku bureau chief, was not allowed to board an international flight on February 23, the same day when Ismayilova’s libel decision was announced. The RFE/RL bureau also revealed that one of its contributors was questioned by prosecutors. His name was not disclosed for safety concerns.   
 
The Baku office of RFE/RL – a bastion for independent news reporting in Azerbaijan – was raided by police on December 26. The targeting of RFE/RL is seen as a part of far-reaching crackdown on all forms of dissent in Azerbaijan.     
 
In another protracted instance of pre-trial detention, a Baku court last week ruled that authorities could keep veteran human rights defender Leyla Yunus behind bars. Yunus has been held without trial since last July on charges of treason and tax evasion.

RFE/RL in the Crosshairs in Azerbaijan

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