Reporting on corruption on Azerbaijan can cost journalists their privacy, their reputation, and even their lives. Award-winning
investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova discussed these threats on July 2 on Al-Jazeera's popular daily show The Stream
, which highlighted "sex tapes, blackmail and beatings" of Azerbaijani journalists.
WATCH: Khadija Ismayilova on AJ Stream
Like other journalists in Azerbaijan, Ismayilova has suffered repeated attempts by government authorities to tarnish her reputation in an effort to curb her reporting. She has been criticized and slandered on several occasions in the state-controlled media, and most recently, an intimate video obtained by cameras hidden in her bedroom was leaked to the Internet
"I’m not the first one. This has happened to other journalists who have been exposing high levels of corruption in our country,” Ismayilova said, referencing other journalists who have been kidnapped, beaten, and secretly videotaped in Azerbaijan. Ismayilova also cited Elmar Huseynov
, who edited a popular investigative journal and was murdered in front of his apartment in 2005.
Representing her government, Nargiz Gurbanova, deputy chief of mission at the Azerbaijani Embassy in the United States, called the incident involving Ismayilova "isolated" and said it should not be taken as an opportunity "for bashing the Azerbaijani government."
Gurbanova said that the case had "many unknowns" and was still under investigation. "Let's discuss it once the investigation is over," she said.
Gurbanova's claims were disputed by Murad Gassanly of the Azerbaijan Democratic Association, an NGO located in the United Kingdom, who also joined the discussion to speak on behalf of harassed journalists, and called Ismayilova a "watchdog" for trying to keep the government accountable.
In discussing her investigative reports
about the Azerbaijani government's ownership of the country's oil, mineral, and land resources, Ismayilova said the government can't afford to let its citizens share in the public wealth.
"Economically, independent, well-doing citizens tend to ask questions," Ismayilova said. "What [the authorities] need is silence to keep stealing public wealth, so that's why they are silencing these journalists."