Brave Azerbaijani journalist’s plea for international support
Khadija Ismayilova tells democratic countries she doesn't want "private diplomacy": "I don't believe in human rights advocacy behind closed doors. People of my country need to know that human rights are supported."
21 Feb 14


Azerbaijani Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismayilova has been questioned by authorities three times over the past week, over allegations that she handed over state secrets to the US.

Ismayilova — an award-winning investigative journalist, who has in the past been blackmailed for her coverage of government corruption — was called first called in for questioning by the country’s General Prosecutor on 18 September. This came “after pro-government media outlets claimed that she had handed files on Azerbaijani opposition politicians and other prominent figures over to the aides, who were allegedly working as US intelligence agents,” reports RFE/RL.

She believes it was due to a dinner she had with US senate staffers in January. “The prosecutor in charge of my case told me that they have information that I passed some kind of state secrets to visiting Americans. I told them it is impossible, since I don’t have any state secrets in my possession. This is an absurd allegation,” she said.

Fearing she might get arrested, she posted the following message on Facebook on Wednesday:

Things get more complicated here. So there are couple things I want to ask for:


You are doing everything right. Keep doing it.


Just in case, I want to remind my request to international community in terms of possible advocacy actions regarding my possible arrest:

Some of you want to help, but can do it only with private diplomacy.

Thank you, but No.

WHEN MY CASE IS CONCERNED,  if you can, please support by standing for freedom of speech and freedom of privacy in this country as loudly as possible. Otherwise, I rather prefer you not to act at all.

I don’t want any private diplomacy for my case. I don’t believe in human rights advocacy behind closed doors. People of my country need to know that human rights are supported.

I also don’t want any release-appreciation trade for my release. My possible arrest will be just one of the more than hundred politically motivated arrest and government of Azerbaijan has managed to use revolving doors of prisons for getting positive feedback from the West: releasing one prisoner, getting praised, arresting two.


IF/WHEN I get arrested, I want you to make sure that your audience understand the reasons. Anti-corruption investigations are the reason of my arrest. The government is not comfortable with what I am doing. I am about to finish three investigations. I will make sure to finish them before anything happens, if not my editors and colleagues will finish and publish. 

İnvestigations I am working on are on the same topic:


Latest report (in Azeri) is about Czech company of Arzu Aliyeva, president’s daughter. The company is sold to tax minister’s advisor. Law bans officials from owning businesses and it is not clear where the 1,2 millions EUros are taken?

2012 President awarded family stake in gold fields

Lucrative gold mining contract signed in 2007 with unknown companies is about to bring millions to it’s secret owners. Khadija Ismayilova and Nushaba Fatullayeva discover familiar names hidden behind offshore companies. Azerbaijani President’s daughters are among beneficiaries.

2012 President’s family has a stake in Eurovision concert hall

Azerbaijan spends hundreds of millions to host Eurovision contest, with more than a hundred millions of public funds invested into the concert hall. Khadija Ismayilova’s investigation traces one of the subcontractors, involved to the expensive project and finds a link to the president’s family. The same company is involved into construction of state funded “patriot” project in 2010– the highest flagpole in the world (which became second highest after Tajikistan beat the record few months later) and shady privatization of energy construction facilities.

2011 Tracking the President’s family business

For more than five years government of Azerbaijan lied to citizens about ownership of the mobile phone operator, naming German Siemens as an owner of Azerfon company, enjoying favorable conditions in the market, not available for competitors. The investigation reveals that president Aliyev’s daughters were behind Azerfon through shell companies in Panama. 

2010 President Aliyev’s family and the illegal privatization of the public airport

The investigation conducted with Ulviyya Asadzade documented how President IlhamAliyev’s family was involved in the illegal privatization of the public bank and other parts of state owned Azerbaijan Airlines company, to benefit the Aliyev family. The government never publicly announced the privatization. The report was declared “the best investigation of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty in 2010” among the 28 language services of the radio.

Today, she also used her Facebook page to call attention to a number of other attacks on press freedom in the past week. Ilgar Veliyev, a journalists with, resigned from his post following the website’s “smear campaign” against Ismayilova.  Natiq Cavadli was fired from Bizim Yol newspaper after publishing an interview with an economics expert who has “revealed corruption in customs”, and Ayten Farhadova resigned from the same paper in solidarity. Yafez Hasanov from RFE/RL has received death threats in connection with his reporting on human rights violations in  in Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan.

The state of press freedom in Azerbaijan is notably poor. An Index on Censorship report released in connection with the country’s recent presidential election highlighted the ongoing “clampdown on independent and critical media”.

This article was posted on 21 February 2014 at

By Milana Knezevic

Milana Knezevic is the Assistant Editor, Online and News of Index on Censorship