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Case History: Khadija Ismayilova

Status: 
Released on probation
About the situation

On 25 May 2016, the Azerbaijani Supreme Court ordered the release on probation of prominent journalist and human rights defender Khadija Ismayilova, who had been imprisoned since December 2014. The Court did not drop the indictment against her, resulting in her facing 3.5 years in probation, a two-year ban on professional activity, a travel ban and other restrictions. This is the first time Azerbaijani authorities ordered a ban on professional activity against a journalist.

About Khadija Ismayilova

khadija ismayilovaKhadija Ismayilova is a prominent journalist and human rights activist in Azerbaijan and is well known for her investigative reports on corruption in Azerbaijan, including the Presidential family's involvement. Prior to her arrest, Khadija reported on the situation of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and advocated for their release. She has been working for Radio Azadliq (a local service of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty) in Azerbaijan.

25 May 2016
Human rights defender Khadija Ismayilova released after 537 days in jail

On 25 May 2016, the Azerbaijani Supreme Court ordered the release on probation of prominent journalist and human rights defender Khadija Ismayilova, who had been imprisoned since December 2014. The Court did not drop the indictment against her, resulting in her facing 3.5 years in probation, a two-year ban on professional activity, a travel ban and other restrictions. This is the first time Azerbaijani authorities ordered a ban on professional activity against a journalist.

Khadija released

Khadija Ismayilova is well known for her investigative reports on corruption, including cases indicating the involvement of the President Ilham Aliyev's family. It is widely believed that the original charges against her - including misappropriation and embezzlement, illegal business and abuse of power - were fabricated to shut down her investigative work to expose corruption. In September 2015, an Azerbaijani court sentenced her to 7.5 years in prison.

The Supreme Court's decision to release Khadija comes three days before the annual Azerbaijan Republic Day, which will be marked with a previously announced mass amnesty and the release of around 3,500 prisoners convicted of minor crimes. As Khadija was convicted in a criminal case, she would have been ineligible for this pardon.

On 17 March, 14 human rights defenders and civil society activists – including human rights defender Rasul Jafarov – were released following a presidential pardon. Two weeks later, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev was also freed.

Front Line Defenders welcomes the Court's decision to release human rights defender Khadija Ismayilova, but urges the Azerbaijani authorities to drop original charges against her, quash the initial verdict, lift the travel ban and the ban on professional activity, and allow her to continue her legitimate human rights activities and journalistic work.

16 October 2015
Court rejects all petitions filed by Khadija Ismail's lawyers

On 15 October 2015, the Baku Court of Serious Crimes rejected all petitions filed by the defence lawyers of Azerbaijani human rights defender Khadija Ismail (Ismayilova), who has been held in detention since December 2014.

On 1 September 2015, the Baku Court of Serious Crimes sentenced Khadija Ismailto seven years and six months in prison, under fabricated charges of misappropriation and embezzlement, illegal business and abuse of power. However, the Court acquitted her of the charge of causing a person to attempt suicide, which was initially brought against her on 5 December 2014.

On 15 October 2015, the Court dismissed all the petitions filed by her lawyer, but it agreed they will start the proceedings regarding the appeal against the sentence on October 29. On 1 September 2015, her lawyer Fakhraddin Mehdiyev requested if she could sit next to her lawyers during further hearings, rather than in the glass booth. He also requested to commute her sentence from imprisonment to house arrest, as well as to launch a reconduction of the judicial investigation of her case.

Throughout the trial, access to the courtroom for international independent observers has been restricted and there were several procedural irregularities.
Khadija's sentence follows the recent convictions of five other prominent human rights defenders targeted in the context of a major crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan. In April 2015, Intigam Aliyev and Rasul Jafarov were sentenced to 7.5 and 6.5 years of imprisonment, respectively, by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes. On 13 August 2015, the same court sentenced Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus to 8 years and six months and 7 years imprisonment, respectively. In May 2014, Anar Mammadli received a 5.5 year prison sentence.

2 September 2015
Update: Khadija Ismail sentenced to 7.5 years in jail

On 1 September 2015, the Baku Court of Serious Crimes sentenced prominent investigative journalist and human rights defender Ms Khadija Ismail (Khadija Ismayilova) to 7.5 years in prison.

The court found her guilty under Articles 179 (misappropriation and embezzlement), 192 (illegal business), 213 (tax evasion) and 308 (abuse of power) under the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan. The human rights defender was acquitted of the charge of causing a person to attempt suicide (Article 125), the initial charge brought against the human rights defender on 5 December 2014.

On 31 August, in her final statement, Khadija Ismail argued that the charges against her were solely a result of her investigative journalism. However, the presiding judge did not allow her to complete the statement, disregarding the time allowed for the defendant's final statement.

Throughout the trial, access to the courtroom for international independent observers has been restricted. Furthermore, Khadija Ismail's lawyer, Mr Fariz Namazly, stated that the prosecutor had failed to present any convincing evidence. He intends to appeal the sentence.

Khadija's sentence follows the recent convictions of five other prominent human rights defenders targeted in the context of a major crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan. In April 2015, Intigam Aliyev and Rasul Jafarov were sentenced to 7.5 and 6.5 years of imprisonment, respectively, by the Baku Court of Grave Crimes. On 13 August 2015, the same court sentenced Leyla Yunus and Arif Yunus to 8 years and six months and 7 years imprisonment, respectively. In May 2014, Anar Mammadli received a 5.5 year prison sentence.

14 May 2015
Azerbaijan - Pre-trial detention of Khadija Ismail extended

On 14 May 2015, the pre-trial detention of human rights defender and investigative journalist Ms Khadija Ismail was extended by Nasimi District Court of Baku until 24 August 2015.

The Court's decision came following a request from the General Prosecutor for the extension of Khadija Ismail's pre-trial detention. In permitting the request, the Court justified the extension in reference to the risk that the human rights defender might try to influence witnesses in the case or flee the country if released. The Court's reasoning echoed that provided on 6 March 2015, the previous instance of extension of her pre-trial detention. An appeal to alter the method of detention to house arrest will be considered by the Court on 15 May 2015.

Whilst being held in pretrial detention, Khadija Ismail has received further charges under Azerbaijan's Criminal Code, including large-scale misappropriation and embezzlement (Article 179.3.2 Azerbaijan's Criminal Code), illegal business with extraction of income in large size (Article 192.2.2), tax evasion (Article 213.1) and abuse of power (Article 308.2). The human rights defender was initially charged with causing a person to attempt suicide under Article 125 of the Criminal Code, following her arrest on 5 December 2014. The charge has since been discredited following the denial by journalist Mr Tural Mustafayev of previous statements he had made accusing Khadija Ismail of driving him to attempt suicide by firing him from Radio Azadliq in March 2014.

The extension of Khadija Ismail's detention follows the conviction to long prison terms of two other human rights defenders who were also targeted in the crackdown started by the Azeri Government in 2014. In April 2015, Intigam Aliyev and Rasul Jafarov were sentenced to 7.5 and 6.5 years of imprisonment respectively. A number of other human rights defenders remain in detention pending trial.

10 December 2014
Details of Khadija Ismail's arrest and pre-trial detention on unfounded charges

On the morning of 5 December 2014, human rights defender and investigative journalist Ms Khadija Ismail was summoned for interrogation in Baku City Prosecutor's office. When she arrived at the Prosecutor's office, she was detained and informed that the Prosecutor had issued an order for her arrest on charges of causing a person to attempt suicide (article 125 of Azerbaijan's Criminal Code).

That evening, Sabail District Court ruled to arrest and detain the human rights defender for two months pending trial. The following day, on 6 December 2014, she was transferred to Kurdakhany pre-trial detention centre in the outskirts of Baku. Her lawyer appealed her pre-trial detention, and the appeal hearing is scheduled for 11 December in Baku Appeals Court.

On 5 December 2014, Khadija Ismail's lawyer had been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement. However, her criminal case was later commented on by the General Prosecutor’s office. According to authorities, the human rights defender allegedly drove journalist Mr Tural Mustafaev to attempt to commit suicide by firing him from the radio station in March 2014 and by “putting pressure on him”. According to the General Prosecutor's office, on 20 October 2014, Tural Mustafaev attempted to take his own life. He survived and later filed a complaint against Khadija Ismail to the General Prosecutor’s office. However, according to the people who knew Tural Mustafaev personally, Khadija Ismail had no connection to his attempted suicide.

On 6 December 2014, the day after Khadija Ismail's arrest, about fifteen law enforcement officers from the police and the General Prosecutor's office carried out a search of her home, seizing 58 DVD-disks, a modem and business cards. If found guilty of causing a person to attempt suicide, the human rights defender could face up to seven years of imprisonment.

Khadija Ismail's arrest follows a statement by the head of Azerbaijan's presidential administration, Mr Ramiz Mehdiyev, on 4 December 2014 where he called the country’s non-governmental groups a “fifth column” and directly accused Khadija Ismail of treason.

Earlier this year, on 18 February 2014, Khadija Ismail was summoned to Azerbaijan's General Prosecutor's office as a witness to give a statement in connection with the “disclosure of a state secret” after she published a document on Facebook about the Azerbaijani secret services recruiting an opposition activist as an “informant”. Subsequently, the alleged “informant” filed a civil law suit against Khadija Ismail, accusing her of defamation. On 9 October 2014, the trial of the human rights defender began in Binagadi District Court, Baku. Khadija Ismail stated in court that the document that she published on Facebook did not mention the name of the plaintiff and there is no evidence to the contrary. At the time of writing, the trial has not been concluded.

On 10 June 2014, Binagadi District Court ordered Khadija Ismail to carry out 220 hours of public service for allegedly organising an unauthorised protest in Baku. The peaceful demonstration, which had been held on 26 January 2013, was dispersed by police who used rubber truncheons to control the crowds. Three protesters were arrested and fifteen others were fined. Khadija Ismail appealed the court ruling but, on 15 August 2014, Baku Appeals Court upheld the previous verdict.

On 5 September 2014, the human rights defender was detained for two hours in Baku airport when travelling from an OSCE conference held in Tbilisi. The border guards searched through her personal belongings and temporarily confiscated her belongings, including money and credit cards. On 5 October 2014, she was detained in Baku airport for five hours as she returned back from Strasbourg, where she had met with Council of Europe officials to discuss the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan. On 12 October 2014, Khadija Ismail was prevented from leaving Azerbaijan due to a decision taken by the General Prosecutor's Office. No reason was given for this travel ban. On 18 November 2014, the human rights defender again attempted to leave the country, to participate in a US Congress Helsinki hearing on corruption in OSCE countries, but she was stopped in the airport, once again without any clear explanations.