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Khadija Ismayilova said the evidence the prosecution presented against her was based on witness statements that "were either taken under pressure or signed without these people actually reading the statements."

A prominent Azerbaijani investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor has made a defiant closing statement in a courtroom in Baku, saying her trial on economic crimes charges has failed to crush her spirit or stop her work.

Khadija Ismayilova, who says the case against her is politically motivated, accused the court on August 31 of inventing the charges in order to send her to prison and end her investigations into corruption at the highest levels of government in the oil-producing former Soviet republic.

"I might be in prison, but the work will continue," she said, according to remarks prepared for delivery and obtained by RFE/RL. The court did not allow Ismayilova to read her statement in full.

Speaking after a state prosecutor last week requested the judge hand her a nine-year prison sentence, she said she and like-minded independent journalists "expose corruption and lawlessness" and that "the work we do is very important."

"We wrote, informed the community, even if the price for it was arrest and blackmail...I am still happy that I fulfilled my job," she said.

Among her reports, which were broadcast by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, were an exposé in 2012 of how the Azerbaijani government awarded the rights to a lucrative gold field to President Ilham Aliyev's family and a 2014 report on how, through a trail of shell owners and offshore registrations, Aliyev's two daughters appear to be connected to Azerbaijan’s largest mobile-phone operator, Azercell.

Ismayilova, who has won numerous international awards for her reporting, said that the court had conducted an "express" trial whose outcome was predetermined and which was riddled with illegalities.

She said that testimony during the proceedings revealed that the evidence the prosecution presented against her was based on witness statements that "were either taken under pressure or signed without these people actually reading the statements."

"One of the witnesses was offered a bribe," she told the court. "Shame on you! What kind of a state is this?!"

Using her closing remarks to again rebut the charges against her, she called it ironic that the government has sought to prove her guilty of crimes such as tax evasion, embezzlement, and abuse of power when these are the very crimes she has sought to expose in her investigative reporting.

"To accuse the person who investigated the presidential family's stolen money stored in offshore accounts, its abuse of state deals and of contracts with offshore companies and groups, and its evasion of taxes was very funny," she told the judge.

She vowed that, if sent to prison, "I won't break under a 15- or even a 25-year sentence."

"I am going to have an opportunity to expose [abuses in] the penitentiary services," she said. "I am one of those people who knows how to turn a problem into an opportunity."

Ismayilova, 39, is among the most prominent of dozens of activists, journalists, and government critics who have been targeted in what rights groups say is a persistent clampdown on dissent by Aliyev's government.

Since her arrest in December, Ismayilova has been kept in pretrial detention despite repeated calls by the United States and other Western governments for her release. Amnesty International calls her a "prisoner of conscience" and the Committee to Protect Journalists terms the charges against her retaliation for her journalistic activities.

Only some representatives of foreign embassies have been able to attend Ismayilova's trial, which began on August 7. Independent journalists and activists have been barred throughout the proceedings.

Al-Jazeera journalists Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mahmoud (left) on trial in Cairo in March

An Egyptian court has sentenced three Al-Jazeera English journalists to three years in prison.

The court issued the verdict on August 29 in the long-running trial criticized worldwide by press freedom advocates and human rights activists.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists -- Canadian national Mohammed Fahmy, Australian journalist Peter Greste, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed -- were detained in December 2013 while working for the Doha-based network.

The three first were sentenced to prison before Egypt's highest court ordered a retrial on charges of them allegedly being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities have declared a terrorist organization, and airing falsified footage intended to damage national security.

Egypt deported Greste in February.

Fahmy and Mohammed, who had been released on bail, were present at the August 29 sentencing and taken away by police after the hearing.

Lawyers for the three journalists are expected to appeal the decision.

In the courtroom in Cairo on August 29, Judge Hassan Farid said the court has investigated the case fully and established that the three had broadcast false news, were not journalists, and operated without permits or licenses.

Three Egyptian students on trial alongside the journalists were also jailed for three years.

One of the three Al-Jazeera English journalists -- Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed -- will spend another six months behind bars for possessing a "bullet," according to Egypt's state news agency MENA.

Greste said he was "shocked" at the scale of the sentence, while Al-Jazeera English acting Director-General Mostefa Souag said the verdict "defies logic and common sense."

Canadian Minister of State for Consular Affairs Lynne Yelich said the court's decision "severely undermines confidence in the rule of law in Egypt."

Amnesty International also condemned it as well, calling the sentences the "death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt."

The three denied all charges and rights advocates said their arrest was part of a wider crackdown on free speech since the military overthrew President Muhammad Morsi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood figure, in mid-2013 following mass unrest.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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