If you ask Azerbaijan prosecutors why they have jailed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reporter Khadija Ismayilova, they will tell you it is because she drove a former boyfriend to suicide.
“Ismayilova was arrested for insulting [Tural] Mustafayev’s honour and dignity in the social networks and among her friends due to breaking off their relations and his intention to marry to another woman, achieving his dismissal and making him depend on her…” read an official statement released by the General Prosecutor on Saturday, one day after her arrest..
The Sabail District court in the capital city Baku has ordered her to be held in pre-trial detention for up to two months. If she is convicted, she could face up to seven years in prison.
But if you ask RFE/RL and international rights group, they will tell you her arrest it is part of a government effort to silence her.
Ismayilova is a well-known investigative reporter and talk show host with Radio Azadlig, RFE/RL’s Azeri language service. She has written extensively about rights abuses and corruption in the former Soviet republic, particularly the business dealings of the first family.
“Today’s detention order comes hot on the heels of a long series of attempts to silence her. The Azerbaijan authorities must stop this harassment of journalists just for doing their jobs,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Program Director at Amnesty International.
RFE’s chief editor, Nenad Pejic, says “Khadija is being punished for her journalism.”
According to reports, the government has been trying to silence Ismayilova since at least March 2012, when she received an anonymous letter containing intimate photos of her, along with a threat: Stop writing or else more embarrassment would come.
Ismayilova decided to go public and posted the following statement on her Facebook page: “…this is not the first time that these acts of blackmail have been used against fellow journalists. The motives of these acts are very well known to the public. It is done to silence people who are outspoken…”
In October of this year, Azeri prosecutors banned her from travel, which precluded her from attending an international conference on freedom and human rights issues, held in Prague.
According to U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ismayilova was scheduled to testify in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Nov. 19, but was prevented from doing so because of that travel ban.
“The current charge levied against Ms. Ismayilova of ‘incitement to suicide’ is just an escalation of the years of harassment by the authorities that she has endured.
“I am deeply concerned about the detention of Ms. Ismayilova, who has been the target of unrelenting persecution by the government of Azerbaijan because of her efforts to expose corruption within the country, as well as her advocacy on behalf of political prisoners. The current charges against her are bizarre and only seem designed to silence one of the few independent voices left in Azerbaijan.” – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
Last week’s charge was brought the day after Ramiz Mehdiyev, chief of staff to the Azeri president, issued a scathing 60-page statement accusing Ismayilova of “defiance” and displaying a “destructive attitude.” The statement also accused RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service of working “for a foreign secret service.”
Tural Mustafayev, Ismayilova’s alleged boyfriend and a former reporter for RFE/RL’s Meydan TV, claims that Ismayilova became jealous when he began seeing another woman, harassed him online and used her influence to prevent him from getting his old job back.
He reportedly tried to hang himself in May of this year–and last October, swallowed rat poison, but survived both suicide attempts.