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Ismayilova Decries Repression, Political Prisoners In Azerbaijan

An investigative journalist and former political prisoner in Azerbaijan says repression of journalists and opposition activists in Azerbaijan is increasing in the country.

RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, who spent 17 months in prison before her release in May, spoke at a U.S. congressional hearing in Washington on September 16 about the harsh conditions faced by journalists who report on corruption.

The hearing, Azerbaijan: Do Human Rights Matter? was organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and held ahead of a September 26 constitutional referendum that will ask voters to strengthen the president's authority and extend his term in office.

International rights watchdogs have widely criticized the referendum.

Ismayilova, who addressed the hearing by video conference from her home in Baku as she is barred from leaving the country, said there are 138 political prisoners in Azerbaijani prisons.

She said pro-Western journalists, bloggers, politicians, and civil activists have faced repression in Azerbaijan under the rule of President Ilham Aliyev.

Ismayilova, who was arrested on charges widely believed to be in retaliation for her reports on corruption among Aliyev's family and friends, added that "Russian media has its bureaus in Baku, while RFE/RL's Baku bureau is closed and its equipment has been confiscated illegally."

Richard Kauzlarich, who served as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan in the 1990s, declared at the hearing that "quiet diplomacy has not worked” as a means of persuading the government to tolerate greater freedoms.

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