Khadija Ismayilova: Unsent letter from prison

Khadija Ismayilova

Khadija Ismayilova

I wrote this letter during my time in prison. I don’t remember the exact date but it was in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis and the so-called “trial” of Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev. The prison management had learned that I was writing something and sent officers in search of it. All my writings were taken including this letter. It was returned to me two months later when it was outdated no longer made sense to send. I am sharing it with you now:

There is an attempt to obscure human rights discourse with “mind your own business” arguments. As if human rights problems of, let’s say, the United States somehow justify the violation of human rights in Azerbaijan. This is another attempt to obscure the discourse by bringing up non-relevant “patriotic-sensitive” topics.

When the US Department of State or international organisations bring up the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, or the corruption of government officials in Baku, they may ask something like: “Why did you keep silent about two internally displaced Azerbaijanis who attempted to visit their homeland under Armenian occupation despite the ongoing war and were taken hostage and are being ‘tried’ by mock trial of separatists?”

The question is surely legitimate but has nothing to do with the issue of human rights violations and political oppression in Azerbaijan.

Of course the lives of Dilgam and Shahbaz matter and the world’s ignorance with regard to criminal actions of Armenia and a separatist regime in occupied Karabakh has been an issue for a long time.

I do admire the courage of Askerov and Guliyev, who ignored the “de-facto” results of the occupation and paid continuous visits to the graves of their siblings and their homes under occupation. They have been doing it for the past ten years, using mountain paths, bypassing Azerbaijani troops and occupants, right up until they were captured.

The occupation of their homeland of Kalbajar, which has never been an Armenian settlement and has never been disputed, was a crime. Their custody in occupied Shusha by a criminal regime of the separatists is also a crime. Azerbaijani society is right in expecting the world to react adequately. Separatists in Karabakh are no different from those in Ukraine’s seized regions and it is fair enough to expect that the world would react to the ongoing occupation of Nagorny Karabakh as strongly as it did react to the occupation of Ukraine’s seized regions.

However, another fair question is: what does this to do with the crimes of president Ilham Aliyev’s regime? How can it be used as justification? This lame attempt by Azerbaijan’s ruling regime to obscure the human rights discourse is a very dangerous one. Is the Azerbaijani government trying to tell the world that they must have the same expectations of the criminal regime in Nagorny Karabakh as they have from the government of Azerbaijan, a sovereign state, a member of the Council of Europe, OSCE, UN etc?

My problem is not the law self-esteem of Aliyev’s regime. I am rather troubled with what role they give to the statehood of Azerbaijan in this lame argument. No matter how low my expectations are of Aliyev and his clique, I have never ever thought of comparing the state of Azerbaijan with the criminal separatist regime.

I don’t think the officials in Baku have paid due attention to this side of the story. In the tit-for-tat business of politics, the argument put on the scale must not be the state’s dignity. The Azerbaijani government had put too much into the game of securing power for Aliyevs. As dictatorships rarely have solid arguments, I do understand that justification of oppression is not an easy task. I don’t know if leading schools of the world teach it or not. The Soviet-era schooling system of partshkola exhausted its limits long ago and its remnants are only good for addressing uneducated masses inside the country. It is for those who are oppressed so much they cannot demand their government stop using the conflict as justification for all mismanagement, corruption and crime.

The people of Azerbaijan deserve better than what they have. The world and the organisations Azerbaijan is a member of deserve better representation from the country so it would be possible to carry out civilised discussion. And more than that, the 21st century deserves better than remnants of old Soviet partshkola in diplomacy.

Azerbaijan: Around the world protestors celebrate Khadija Ismayilova’s birthday

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Protest for Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan embassy, London. Credit: Cat Lucas, English Pen

Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova may have been released from prison on Wednesday, but two trumped-up charges against her — illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion –remain. Her seven-and-a-half-year jail sentence has only been reduced to a three-and-a-half-year suspended term and she isn’t free to leave the country.

Today is Ismayilova’s 40th birthday and to mark the occasion, protesters gathered at 40 different demonstrations from around the world, not just to celebrate, but to call for all charges against her to be quashed. Index joined other members of the Sports for Rights coalition at the Azerbaijani embassy in London (see above).

“Let’s take a moment to celebrate the work that’s been done by this remarkable woman,” Rebecca Vincent, the co-ordinator of the Sport for Rights campaign, told demonstrators.

Currently, around 70 political prisoners — including journalists, bloggers, activists and religious followers — sit in Azerbaijani jails, and Vincent called on protesters to sustain their focus on all of them. “That’s what Khadija has asked for for her birthday,” she said.

Seymur Hezi is an Azerbaijani journalist serving a five-year prison sentence on charges of “aggravated hooliganism”. Hezi, who contributed to the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award-winning newspaper Azadliq, was sentenced on 29 January 2015. He was arrested on 29 August 2014 following an altercation in which the journalist was defending himself from a physical assault and harassment, according to his lawyers. “His case doesn’t get enough international attention, possibly because he is not an English speaker and not well networked,” Vincent said.

Other political prisoners include Ilgar Mammadov, the opposition politician who leads Azerbaijan Republican Alternative Movement, who has been in jail for over three years, and Ilkin Rustemzade, the activistt originally jailed following his Harlem Shake video filmed in Baku.

On the same day Ismayilova was released, two more political prisoners, a youth activist and a journalist, were arrested.

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Protest for Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan embassy, London. Credit: Cat Lucas, English Pen

Khadija by Cat 4

Protest for Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan embassy, London. Credit: Cat Lucas, English Pen

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Protest for Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan embassy, London. Credit: Cat Lucas, English Pen

Many more protests took place today. Here are some of them:

Paris, France

Washington DC, USA

Brussels, Belgium

Oslo, Norway

Azerbaijan: Index on Censorship calls for Khadija Ismayilova’s convictions to be quashed

Khadija Ismayilova is one of the government critics jailed ahead of the 2015 Baku European Games.

Index on Censorship calls for all Khadija Ismayilova’s convictions to be quashed following the reduction in her jail sentence to a three-and-a-half-year suspended term.

Ismayilova, an award-winning journalist, was imprisoned since December 2014 and sentenced in September 2015 to seven-and-a-half years in prison on trumped-up charges.

“Khadija is a courageous journalist who speaks truth to power despite relentless harassment and pressure,” said Index on Censorship’s senior advocacy officer Melody Patry. She added: “Her imprisonment was unjust and the Supreme Court should have gone further and overturned the conviction rather than merely reducing the sentence.”

Officially charged with large-scale misappropriation and embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of official duties, the real reason for Ismayilova’s imprisonment is her investigative journalism and advocacy.

Although Ismayilova is out of jail, her conviction still stands and carries many restrictions on her freedoms. She will have to report herself to the police every month and won’t be able to leave the country for five years without a permission from state institutions, Azadliq Radiosu reports.

“The struggle is not over for Khadija Ismayilova, and it is certainly not over for the remaining political prisoners in Azerbaijan,” Index’s CEO Jodie Ginsberg said. “Substantial change and reform are needed so that the authorities cannot jail and free their critics as they please.”

Index on Censorship will take part in the Sport for Rights global action to mark Ismayilova’s 40th birthday on Friday 27 May. Gatherings across the globe will go ahead, and participants will celebrate Ismayilova’s release and call for the release of the country’s dozens of remaining political prisoners.

Azerbaijan: Journalist Khadija Ismayilova released from prison

Who is investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova?

Azerbaijan: Journalist Khadija Ismayilova released from prison

Khadija Ismayilova

Khadija Ismayilova

Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court has ordered the release of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova after an international campaign to free her and just two days before international protests against her detention were due to take place.

Khadija, who turns 40 on Friday, had previously been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison on trumped-up financial charges in September 2015, having been detained since December 2014. The supreme court has just announced that her sentence has been reduced to a suspended three-year sentence. She will be subject to a travel ban and other restrictions.

“We are delighted that Khadija Ismayilova has been released from prison,” said Index’s senior advocacy officer Melody Patry. “She shouldn’t have spent a day in jail. The charges against her were spurious and we call for her full acquittal. We also reiterate our calls for Azerbaijan to release all political prisoners.”

Ismayilova was jailed in December 2014 on a range of politically motivated charges – initially inciting someone to attempt suicide, and later the charges of which she was eventually convicted: illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion, and abuse of office. The real reason she was targeted, however, was her investigative reporting exposing corruption among Azerbaijan’s ruling elite.

Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (ECCA) International Media Support team leader Gulnara Akhundova said today: “We are beyond relieved that Khadija Ismayilova has finally been released, but emphasise that she should never have spent a single day in jail. We call for all restrictions on her to be immediately dropped and for her conviction to be overturned.”

Rebecca Vincent of Sports for Rights, which has been campaigning for Ismayilova’s release, said: “We are delighted that Khadija is finally free, after spending 537 days unjustly jailed. On the occasion of her release, we echo Khadija’s call that we should not focus only on her case, but call for the releases of all political prisoners and concrete steps to address the rampant corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan that Khadija has sacrificed so much to expose.”

Sport for Rights has organised a global action to mark Ismayilova’s 40th birthday on Friday 27 May in 40 cities around the world. Gatherings will still go ahead, and participants will celebrate Ismayilova’s release, call for her full acquittal and call for the release of the country’s dozens of remaining political prisoners.

Index on Censorship senior advocacy officer Melody Patry is available for comment at +44 (0)207 963 7290 / [email protected].

Sport for Rights coordinator Rebecca Vincent is available for comment at +44 (0)7583 137751 / [email protected].