On 25 May 2016, award-winning Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova was released from prison in Azerbaijan.
Through her courageous reporting, Khadija exposed evidence of corruption by the President of Azerbaijan, later confirmed in the Panama Papers. Following an unfair trial she was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison on sham charges and had been in prison for almost a year and half before her release was announced today.
This afternoon the Supreme Court of Baku issued a verdict acquitting Khadija on two of the four charges that she was convicted of (misappropriation and abuse of power) and reducing her sentence for the two remaining charges to conditional release and probation for a period of 5 years. A written judgment setting out the terms of her release is expected to follow shortly.
Following Khadija’s release her counsel, Amal Clooney, said:
“Today we can all celebrate the fact that an innocent young woman has been freed. Khadija is a talented journalist who was instrumental in exposing corruption in her country. Her release is a victory for all journalists who dare to speak truth to power”.
She added that: “Khadija deserves full acknowledgment of her innocence and should be allowed to resume her work as a journalist without further harassment by the government”.
Her co-counsel Nani Jansen added: “Khadija is a courageous investigative journalist who should never have been imprisoned. Her release is a significant and telling gesture by the Azerbaijani courts, which demonstrates in no uncertain terms that her detention was unjustified”.
Khadija has been represented by barrister Amal Clooney of Doughty Street Chambers and Nani Jansen of the Media Legal Defence Initiative since 2015. In March 2016 they filed detailed legal submissions to the European Court alleging violations of Khadija’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
In April 2016, Mrs Clooney also met with representatives of the US Government, House of Representatives and Senate in Washington DC, as well as the Azerbaijani Ambassador to the US, Elin Suleymanov, to call for Khadija’s release. Mrs Clooney would like to thank the US government, including State Department representative Tom Malinowski and US Ambassador Samantha Power, as well as Senators Cardin, McCain, Rubio, and Kirk and Congressmen McGovern and Rohrabacher, for their public statements of support for Khadija’s release.
Mrs Clooney and Ms Jansen would also like to thank Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19, PEN International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Sport for Rights, 89up, Freedom Now, the Human Rights House Foundation, International Partnership for Human Rights, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, International Media Support and Revolution Messaging for their support for Khadija’s release.
For further background please see coverage of the case on the BBC, available here, here and here and a more recent interview here.