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Khadija Ismayilova

BAKU -- The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Azerbaijan failed to protect investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova’s right to privacy, saying the country’s courts should have sanctioned a local newspaper for an article making salacious claims and commentary about her private and sexual life.

The Strasbourg-based court on May 7 held that the Azerbaijani state was to pay Ismayilova a total of 6,000 euros ($6,500) for damages, costs, and expenses.

This is the ECHR’s third decision in favor of Ismayilova in relation to an alleged campaign of intimidation against her because of her journalistic activity.

The journalist -- who has conducted investigations into high-level corruption in Azerbaijan, including cases involving the family of President Ilham Aliyev -- was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison in 2015 on what human rights groups called trumped-up tax-evasion charges. She was conditionally released in 2016 but is still subject to a travel ban.

Amnesty International’s South Caucasus researcher, Natalia Nozadze, said the ECHR’s latest judgement “exposes the complicity of Azerbaijan’s judicial system in silencing a prominent journalist and attacking the right to freedom of expression in the country.”

“Not only has Khadija Ismayilova served a prison sentence under false charges, she has suffered years of harassment by the authorities, intrusion into her personal life, and vilification in state-run media,” Nozadze added.

In March 2012, a video filmed secretly with a camera planted in Ismayilova’s bedroom and showing scenes of a sexual nature was posted online.

Months later, a pro-government newspaper published an article containing derogatory remarks about Ismayilova, saying she should be considered a porn star and suggesting that she should engage in sexual liaisons with opposition-oriented journalists.

The reporter sued the newspaper, saying the article was insulting and damaging to her honor and dignity, her right to privacy, and her right to freedom of expression.

But Azerbaijani courts dismissed her claim and appeals in 2013, arguing, among other things, that the statements made in the article in question were a manifestation of the author’s freedom of expression.

The ECHR on May 7 ruled that the Azerbaijani authorities failed to protect Ismayilova’s right to privacy, contrary to their obligation under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The only discernible intent behind the statements made in respect of the applicant was to attack her or set her up for attack on grounds of morality,” the court said. “By further exploiting the previous breach of her privacy, the article in question sought, by using offensive and derogatory language, to attribute to the applicant characteristics and behavior in a manner calculated to negatively and radically influence how she was viewed in society.”

In January 2019, the ECHR ruled that Azerbaijan failed to investigate the sex-tape case, violating Ismayilova’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

And in February 2020, the court ruled that the actual goal of her arrest and detention was to “silence and punish her for her work.”

The shocking death of a young woman in Afghanistan is the latest example of a so-called "honor" killing. (illustrative photo)

BADAKHSHAN, Afghanistan -- Afghan girls and women who have relationships with men outside marriage are often the target of brutal punishments -- including public floggings, prison, and even death.

One teenage girl who is believed to have broken that social norm paid the ultimate price this week when her brother reportedly killed her after she ran away from home with her boyfriend.

The shocking incident was just the latest case in Afghanistan of so-called "honor" killings: the murder of women for allegedly dishonoring the family, such as eloping with men or committing adultery.

'Stabbed To Death'

Police said Nazela, an 18-year-old woman, was strangled with electric wire and then stabbed to death in the Baharak district of the northeastern province of Badakhshan on May 1.

Noor Agha Naderi, the district governor of Baharak, told RFE/RL that the victim had rejected a marriage proposal to another man that had been arranged by her family.

Naderi said she ran away from home and took refuge at the district police headquarters with her boyfriend. But just two days later, her brother picked her up from the station and assured police that nothing would happen to her.

Within an hour, she was dead.

Baharak
Baharak

“Unfortunately, when she arrived home, her brother stabbed her to death,” said Naderi. “The brother fled to a Taliban-controlled area.”

Authorities believe the victim’s brother escaped to Jurm district, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group, making it difficult for law enforcement to apprehend him.

The Taliban controls and contests parts of Badakhshan, a remote, mountainous province bordering Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan.

Naderi said the police officials who released the victim, knowing that she was in danger, have been suspended and are under investigation.

Arefa Nawid, the head of the provincial office of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), blamed police for mishandling the case.

She said police should not have released the woman and instead should have transferred her to a women’s shelter.

“This happened because of [the police],” Nawid told RFE/RL.

The victim’s boyfriend has been placed under police protection.

'Moral' Crimes

So-called “moral offenses,” including adultery or even running away from home, are not considered crimes under the Afghan Criminal Code. But hundreds of women and girls have nevertheless been imprisoned after being convicted of "immorality" by courts dominated by religious conservatives.

In some rural areas, where Taliban militants exert considerable influence, residents often view government bodies as corrupt or unreliable and turn to Taliban courts to settle disputes.

In May 2019, journalist Mena Mangal was killed in Kabul just days after getting a divorce from her abusive husband.
In May 2019, journalist Mena Mangal was killed in Kabul just days after getting a divorce from her abusive husband.

The Taliban courts employ strict interpretations of Shari'a law, which prescribes death, or in other cases public flogging, for men or women found guilty of having a physical relationship outside marriage.

The woman's own family is often behind the punishments, in some cases shunning the woman or handing her over to authorities for prosecution. In the worst cases, the woman’s own relatives can carry out the killings.

Spate Of Killings

Nazela’s story is all too common in Afghanistan, where violence against women is widespread.

Despite women making significant inroads since the end of Taliban rule in 2001, domestic abuse remains routine and forced or arranged marriages are the norm.

In recent years, there has been a spate of chilling public punishments of Afghan women accused of moral crimes.

In 2019, the AIHRC recorded nearly 4,700 cases of violence against women in Afghanistan, an 8 percent increase compared to the previous year.

The AIHRC recorded the murders of 238 Afghan women in 2019, with 96 labeled as honor killings. This was a slight decrease compared to 2018. Often the murders are not reported and perpetrators go unpunished.

In May 2019, female journalist Mena Mangal was killed in the capital, Kabul, just days after getting a divorce from her abusive husband.

In 2017, an 18-year-old woman in the eastern province of Nuristan who had been forced by her family to marry a man against her wishes ran away with her boyfriend.

An armed mob stormed a police station where the couple had sought refuge and killed them.

In October 2015, 19-year-old Rokhsana was stoned to death by Taliban militants in the central province of Ghor after being accused of having premarital sex.

In November 2015, a 26-year-old Afghan woman died of her injuries after being publicly lashed, also in Ghor. She had been accused of running away from home.

And in August 2016, also in Ghor Province, a young man and woman found guilty of having sex outside marriage were publicly lashed.

Adultery has also resulted in several cases of women being stoned to death in areas controlled by the Taliban in recent years.

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"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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