Azerbaijan: Appeal date announced for jailed investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova

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

Khadija Ismayilova

Khadija Ismayilova, one of Azerbaijan’s most celebrated journalists, will be given the opportunity to appeal against the decision by the Baku Court of Appeal to imprison her.

The appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan on 25 May.

Ismayilova has been arbitrarily imprisoned since December 2014 and was sentenced on September 2015 to seven and a half years in prison. Although she is officially charged with large-scale misappropriation and embezzlement, illegal entrepreneurship, tax evasion and abuse of official duties, it is widely believed that the real reason for Ismayilova’s imprisonment is her investigative journalism.

Ismayilova investigated, among other things, Azerbaijan’s human rights abuses and corruption involving the family of president Ilham Aliyev, which has since been implicated in the Panama Papers for its hidden wealth.

Earlier this month, the United Nations recognised Ismayilova’s brave reporting and self-sacrifice with the prestigious Unesco/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.

The journalist’s mother, Elmira Ismayilova, accepted the award on her daughter’s behalf. She read a statement Ismayilova wrote from prison: “As you gather here tonight, I ask you not to laud my work or my courage, but to dedicate yourself to the work each one of you can do on behalf of press freedom and justice.”

Ljiljana Zurovac, president of the Unesco/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2016 jury, said: “Khadija Ismayilova highly deserves the Prize and I am happy to see that her courage and professionalism are recognised.”

The appeal will take place two days before the journalist’s 40th birthday. To mark Ismayilova’s birthday and call for her immediate and unconditional release, the Sport for Rights campaign is collaborating with others, including Index on Censorship, to co-ordinate a series of parallel protests in cities around the world.