Imprisoned on trumped-up charges, investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova was released this week in Azerbaijan after 18 months behind bars. Her freedom comes after a concerted international campaign by journalists, human rights advocates, and Western governments. Ismayilova was sentenced in 2015 to seven-and-a-half years for tax evasion and embezzlement, charges widely seen as retaliation for her exposés of corruption among her country's ruling elite. The newly-freed Khadija vowed to press on with her reporting and plans to dive into Azerbaijan's role in the Panama Papers."Thank you all for your support," she said. "I am going to continue with my investigations... There is always work to do in countries like Azerbaijan."
Khadija Project Turned Up the Heat
Khadija's release was due in no small part to relentless digging by The Khadija Project, a consortium led by GIJN-member Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), with whom the Radio Free Europe journalist did her exposés on the Azerbaijan government. The project has led to dozens of stories revealing the ruling Aliyev family's offshore holdings and insider deals. Like a cyber-version of IRE's famed Arizona Project, The Khadija Project continued Ismayilova's work. "Until Khadija is free, we will be Khadija x 100," the reporters vowed.
199 More Khadijas in Prison
As we celebrate Khadija’s release, it’s worth noting that an epidemic of violence and persecution is still being directed against free media around the globe. In its latest census, the Committee to Protect Journalists found 199 journalists behind bars, led by China, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey. GIJN will continue working with our friends at CPJ, Reporters without Borders, Freedom House, UNESCO, and elsewhere to stop these attacks and end the impunity the attackers enjoy. As Khadija, who turns 40 today, told RFE: "My birthday wish is, keep doing whatever you can to get someone out of prison. because it's worth it,.. It worked with me. It will work with others."