U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) urged Azerbaijan to respect the work of independent journalists in remarks made on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Senator Cardin, who is co-chair of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided at a hearing on "Combating Corruption in the OSCE Region," at which an empty chair was left at the witness table to mark the absence of Khadija Ismayilova, a Baku-based investigative reporter who was denied the opportunity to testify because of a travel ban imposed by Azeri authorities.
Cardin declared that the United States and Azerbaijan “have a very close relationship on many issues,” but urged the country “to understand the importance of protecting independent journalists” and allowing them to work, and said it “will be a stronger country” as a result of such actions.
Ismayilova, a contributor to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service who is one of the hosts of the Service's news-talk program "Isden Sonra," has reported extensively on the financial activities of family members of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. Ismayilova has been targeted by the ruling party’s press and threatened with physical harm and arrest since 2012. In February, official media accused her of spying for the United States after she met with U.S. Senate staffers in Baku. Ismayilova, who says she has received no court summons nor official explanation about the travel ban, is currently under investigation on opaque charges of defamation.
Ismayilova submitted testimony and several of her investigations for the hearing's written record, concluding that, "Investigative journalists in Azerbaijan have done their best to show the government where the problems are."