WASHINGTON -- Azerbaijan today pardoned several political prisoners, but RFE/RL reacted with dismay that a leading contributor to its Azerbaijani Service, investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, was not among them.
"We are overjoyed for the journalists, human rights defenders, and activists who were released today after being imprisoned for exercising their basic rights of free speech and free assembly," said Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL editor in chief.
"But Khadija should have been among them," he said.
U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), who chairs the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, responded to today's announcement with "relief" for those pardoned, while requesting that the "many others" still behind bars, including Ismayilova, also be released. He called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to "repeal the many undemocratic laws and regulations that prohibit the exercise of universally recognized human rights in Azerbaijan."
On September 1, 2015, a Baku court sentenced Ismayilova to 7 1/2 years in prison on charges that rights groups say were brought in retaliation for her reports exposing corruption among members of President Ilham Aliyev's family.
In recent correspondence with RFE/RL, international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who will represent Ismayilova before the European Court of Human Rights, said that “the case involved a politically motivated prosecution to restrict [Ismayilova’s] freedom of speech… This is about a government that is abusing its power to silence journalists like Khadija, as well as other critics of the ruling regime."
Ismayilova has won numerous international awards for her investigative reporting, including the PEN American Center's 2015 Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, the National Press Club's 2015 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, and the 2013 Golden Shining Light Award. Most recently, the Swedish organization FGJ bestowed its Golden Shovel award on the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and its partners Sveriges Television (SVT) and the TT news agency for completing Ismayilova’s 2014 examination of telecoms giant TeliaSonera’s business dealings in Azerbaijan.
Among the prisoners who were jailed for their political activity and pardoned today are human rights defenders Taleh Khasmammadov, Rasul Jafarov and Anar Mammadli; N!DA movement activists Rashadat Akhundov, Rashad Hasanov, Omar Mammadov, and Mammad Azizov; opposition political leaders Nemat Panahli, Tofig Yagublu, Yadigar Sadigov, and Siraj Karimov; and journalists Parviz Hashimli and Hilal Mammadov. Azerbaijan’s president often grants pardons on Novruz, the pre-Islamic New Year holiday.
Family members and rights organizations welcomed the pardons, but demanded that all political prisoners in Azerbaijan be released.