Day of the Imprisoned Writer Cases 2015: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan)

02 Nov 2015
Day of the Imprisoned Writer Cases 2015: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan)

This year marks the 34th annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, an international day that recognises writers who have suffered persecution as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression. This is one of the five cases that PEN has chosen to highlight this year:

Khadija Ismayilova has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for embezzlement and tax evasion. An investigative journalist and radio host for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, she is well known – both within Azerbaijan and internationally – for her exposures of high level corruption and for her criticism of the Azerbaijani government’s crackdown on opposition voices. Because of her work, she has been the target of a relentless campaign of intimidation and judicial harassment over the last two years. Ismayilova was arrested on 5 December 2014, on suspicion of inciting another journalist’s attempted suicide although this charge was later dropped. PEN believes Ismayilova’s imprisonment is a politically-motivated response to her work exposing corruption at the highest levels of Azerbaijani society.

Khadija Ismayilova, 39, is a member of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, to which she contributes with her investigations. Between 2008 and 2010 she served as the head of the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, and from 2010 she published a series of articles in which she accused Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his family of corruption. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty named two of these reports as their best investigative articles in 2010 and 2011. She shed light on the business activities of the presidential family and their closest relatives, highlighting surprising facts such as a real estate in the United Arab Emirates worth US$ 44 million owned by President Aliyev’s 11-year-old son; and a public bank and a holding owned by the President’s daughter that had won several tenders. She also discovered that the AIMROC consortium in charge of extracting gold and silver worth 2.5 billion USD from the Chovdar mine is owned by three Panamanian companies, of which the wife and daughters of the President are senior managers. According to a Freedom House report, Azerbaijani law prohibits government officials, including the president, from owning businesses, but there are no such restrictions on business dealings by family members of officials.

Ismayilova soon started to pay the consequences of her polemical investigations. On 7 March 2012, Ismayilova received what appeared to be snapshots of footage from a camera hidden in her bedroom. Attached was a letter containing threats of “public humiliation”, if Ismayilova did not “behave”. It is believed the threats came after her investigation into Aliyev’s family’s alleged interests in lucrative construction projects in Baku ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest. When she refused, an explicit video (allegedly depicting her) was posted online. In light of these events, in February 2014, Ismayilova posted a list of requests to her supporters in case of her arrest. In October 2014, on returning home from a meeting with Council of Europe officials in Strasbourg, she was detained for several hours at Baku airport.

The arrest came on 5 December 2014, when Ismayilova was accused of inciting her former colleague Tural Mustafayev to suicide. She was placed under two months of pre-trial detention, but her detention was repeatedly extended until her trial took place in September 2015. According to reports, in December 2014 Mustafayev withdrew his original complaint which he had filed while ‘going through psychologically difficult times’. Nevertheless, Ismayilova was convicted on 1 September 2015 of fresh charges of embezzlement and tax evasion for which she was sentenced to seven years and a half in prison.

Ismayilova’s investigations over the past five years have attracted international attention. She has received several awards for her work, including the 2015 PEN America Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

Please send appeals:

  • Expressing concern at the continued pre-trial detention of investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, and the charges against her, which PEN believes are politically-motivated;
  • Calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally and to drop all charges against her;
  • Calling on Azerbaijan to comply with its obligations under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Azerbaijan is a state party) to protect the right to freedom of expression and cease its campaign of intimidation directed at opposition or critical voices.

Appeals to:

President Ilham Aliyev
Istiglaliyyat Street 19
1066 Baku
Republic of Azerbaijan
Fax +994124923543
Salutation: Your Excellency

Prosecutor General Zakir Qaralov
Office of the Prosecutor General
7 Rafibeyli Street
Baku AZ1001, Azerbaijan
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General

Please copy your letters to the Azerbaijani embassy in your country. The address may be found here.


Write to Khadija Ismayilova in prison. Her friends and family say that messages of support provide great comfort and inspiration:

Prison Address:
Xədicə İsmayılova
Bakı İstintaq təcridxanası
Sabunçu rayonu, Zabrat-2 qəsəbəsi
AZ-1104, Bakı şəhəri

For further details please contact Ann Harrison at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: