Khadija Ismayilova hosted a popular program on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service and worked as a senior investigator with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project covering the corruption of Azerbaijan’s ruling family before she was arrested on Dec. 5, 2014.
In September 2015, she was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison but through her relentless determination and vocal campaigns by her fellow journalists and human rights activists she was set free after a successful appeal to Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court on May 25, 2016, two days before her 40th birthday.
Khadija has done extensive reporting on corruption and malfeasance in the country’s government and has written numerous stories detailing the unethical business dealings of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family and friends.
She denied all charges against her, and human rights groups denounced them as a politically motivated attempt to not only silence her but to intimidate other journalists.
She was accused in several unrelated cases. In one, she was alleged to have incited a colleague to attempt suicide. Her accuser subsequently recanted and she was acquitted of the charge on Sept. 1, 2015. In a second, she was accused of various tax and fraud offenses; and in a third, she was convicted of criminal libel and fined.
Her appeal took place on May 25, 2016. The court ordered Ismayilova’s release and suspended her sentence, acquitting her of the charges of misappropriation and abuse of power, but upheld the charges of illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion, for which she still faces 3 years and 6 months. That sentence was commuted to probation.
This is not the first time the government has attempted to muzzle Ismayilova. She first received international attention when agents secreted a video camera in her bedroom and recorded her in intimate moments with her boyfriend; when she refused to be silenced, the videos were released in the spring of 2012.
In 2012 she received both the German ZEIT Foundation award and the International Women’s Media Federation’s Courage Award; in 2013, she added to those the Global Shining Light Award. In 2015 she has been honored by the PEN America Press Freedom Award, the ZEIT Foundation, the Swedish Press Club, and the National Press Club in America.
Ismayilova was named the recipient of the 2016 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. In December 2017, Ismayilova received the Right Livelihood Award “ for her courage and tenacity in exposing corruption at the highest levels of government through outstanding investigative journalism in the name of transparency and accountability”. Khadija was not allowed to travel from Azerbaijan to Sweden to receive the award.