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.”