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Jailed Journalist Ismayilova's Pretrial Detention Prolonged

Khadija Ismayilova has been held in custody since December.
Khadija Ismayilova has been held in custody since December.

BAKU -- A court in Azerbaijan has prolonged the pretrial detention period for Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL who has been behind bars since December.

The Nasimi District Court in Baku ruled on May 14 that Ismayilova's pretrial detention period will be extended for three months.

Ismayilova, whose investigative reporting has exposed corruption by Azerbaijani government officials, was arrested on December 5 and initially charged with inciting a man to attempt suicide.

The man who levelled the accusation later sought to withdraw his complaint, but prosecutors have not responded publicly to that request and Ismayilova was handed additional charges in February alleging tax evasion, illegal business activities, and abuse of power.

She denies wrongdoing and says all the charges are politically motivated.

The May 14 ruling came two days after another setback for Ismayilova, who remains in jail despite calls from rights groups and foreign governments for her release.

On May 12, a separate court started a hearing into Ismayilova's appeal against a libel conviction in February, but adjourned it indefinitely.

That decision came a week after Ismayilova was honored with the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for what PEN said were "hard-hitting investigations [that] have revealed corruption at the highest levels of power in Azerbaijan."

Accepting the award on her behalf at a ceremony in New York, Emin Milli -- an Azerbaijani writer who himself was jailed in 2009 -- urged journalists and activists to "spread the word about her courage and struggle for freedom all over the world."

On the same day, U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to release Ismayilova.

The United States "is deeply concerned by the incarceration of all of those detained in connection with exercising their fundamental freedoms," he said.

Representatives of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. agency that oversees RFE/RL and Voice of America, have repeatedly contacted Azerbaijani officials to protest Ismayilova's incarceration.

In June, Azerbaijan will host the first-ever European Games. A group of prominent writers and editors, including many American, have written to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, urging him to demand Ismayilova's release and condemn human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.

With reporting by Voice of America

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