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Baku Court Cuts Off Ismayilova's Fiery Final Statement; Verdict Delayed

Khadija Ismayilova denounced the charges of libel, tax evasion, illegal business activity, and abuse of power as a "scam" aimed at silencing her investigative reporting.

Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova delivered a scathing final statement in a Baku courtroom on August 31, calling Azerbaijan's government a "repression machine" and dismissing her trial as a "scam" aimed to silence her.

Before she was cut off without finishing her remarks, Ismayilova told the court that her reporting proved President Ilham Aliyev had "squandered [the] state budget and his family members were direct beneficiaries."

Ismayilova, a contributor to RFE/RL who has won awards for investigative reporting on high-level corruption in oil-producing Azerbaijan, says the charges of libel, tax evasion, illegal business activity, and abuse of power are politically motivated retribution.

"Shame on you! What kind of a state is this? Even your cheap tricks did not work in building a criminal case against me," Ismayilova said in the final statement, according to a copy of prepared remarks that was obtained by RFE/RL.

A verdict had been expected on August 31, but it was postponed until September 1 after what lawyers and others who attended the trial said was a tense session in which the prosecutor repeatedly called on the judge to stop Ismayilova after she mentioned President Aliyev.

She was unable to deliver the last section of her statement -- in which she was to thank supporters and wish the judge a pleasant vacation following the trial "without an aching and silenced conscience."

"Khadija spoke about the work she did, but she was stopped [by the judge and prosecutor], they didn't want her to continue," her mother, Elmira Ismayilova, told reporters outside the courtroom.

State prosecutors have requested a nine-year prison sentence for Ismayilova. If she is convicted, the judge could announce her sentence immediately or schedule a further hearing to do so.

Ismayilova's statement described Aliyev's government as a "repression machine" and denounced what she called "the presidential family's stolen money stored in offshore accounts, their abuse of state deals and contracts with offshore companies and groups, and of evading taxes."

Ismayilova also voiced confidence that "real journalists and mindful citizens" would continue denouncing high-level corruption in the oil-producing former Soviet republic.

"Yes, I might be in prison, but the work will continue," she said in her statement.

Critics have accused Aliyev of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents, citing Ismayilova as an example.

Rights advocates, Western officials, and media watchdogs have repeatedly called for the release of all imprisoned journalists and free speech advocates in Azerbaijan, including Ismayilova.

Several journalists and rights activists were sentenced to prison terms last year in Azerbaijan on charges including tax evasion, illegal business activity, and hooliganism.

Their cases are widely seen as part of a government-led crackdown on dissent in the former Soviet republic in the South Caucasus, which Aliyev has ruled since he succeeded his father as president in 2003.