Imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova has confirmed that prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney will represent her at the European Court of Human Rights.
Ismayilova lawyer Fariz Namazli said in an exclusive statement on January 21 that the reporter, who was sentenced to more than seven years in prison last year on dubious economic-crimes charges, had agreed to Clooney's offer because of the "courage" she had demonstrated while defending Al-Jazeera journalistMohamed Fahmy in 2014 when he was imprisoned in Egypt.
Clooney, who has represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in recent years, will serve as co-counsel for Ismayilova.
The case seeks to challenge Azerbaijan's detention of Ismayilova -- who was in pretrial detention for nine months after her arrest in December 2014 -- as a violation of the European convention.
The initial charge, that she had prompted a former colleague to attempt to commit suicide, was dropped, but she remained jailed and was later charged with embezzlement, tax evasion, and abuse of power. In September, the 39-year-old Ismayilova was sentenced by an Azerbaijani court to 7 1/2 years in prison.
The legal actions against Ismayilova are widely considered to be retribution for her reporting that linked the family of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to extensive business and real-estate holdings, and have come under intense criticism from international rights groups and Western states, including members of the European Union.
"Amal Clooney's decision to take the case is a powerful affirmation of Khadija and her journalism," RFE/RL editor in chief Nenad Pejic said following Ismayilova's announcement. "It's a triumph for media freedom already, and I know that with their combined strength they will win."
WATCH: Ismayilova Accepts Clooney As Lawyer
News earlier this week that Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney, might get involved in Ismayilova's case sparked scathing criticism in state-run media in Azerbaijan.
At least one outlet suggested that she was biased against Azerbaijan as evidenced by her work representing ethnic Armenians against Turkey pertaining to the 1915 mass killings of Armenians under Ottoman rule.
Under Aliyev, the oil-rich former Soviet republic has turned increasingly authoritarian in recent years, jailing independent reporters, human rights activists, and civil-society advocates.
The country has also recently seen an outburst of civil unrest in recent weeks due to low global oil prices, which have squeezed its oil-dependent economy.