BBG Watch Commentary
“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,” U.S. taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported. We applaud Ms. Clooney’s offer and wish her success.
It is unfortunate, however, that RFE/RL’s parent U.S. government agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has not been able to secure Ms. Ismayilova’s release and the RFE/RL journalist continues to suffer imprisonment. We believe that stronger U.S. diplomatic efforts on behalf of Ms. Ismayilova should have been taken, and still ought to be taken.
We believe that the BBG should have never sent its own executives, who are not diplomats, to negotiate Ms. Ismayilova’s release. The agency’s leadership should have instead made strong demands to the State Department and the White House that a high-level U.S. diplomatic delegation be sent to negotiate with the Azeri government. It is still not too late to take this step.
While Ms. Clooney works on Ms. Ismayilova’s release, it would behoove her to also look into widespread employee rights abuses at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty itself in Prague and at its bureaus, as well as at the Broadcasting Board of Governors agency in Washington, DC. If at all possible, Ms. Clooney should try to raise with RFE/RL and BBG management the case of dismissed Radio Liberty human rights reporter in Russia Kristina Gorelik, who is not only fighting accusations from RFE/RL lawyers and managers testifying against her in a Russian court, but is also a target of vicious anti-Semitic attacks on her for her previous work for Radio Liberty.
It is ironic that Ms. Ismayilova’s case will be heard before the European Court of Human Rights because that’s where two dismissed RFE/RL employees were unsuccessfully seeking justice on behalf of themselves and other RFE/RL third-county journalists who are denied equal protection. We urge Ms. Clooney to use her considerable professional and moral authority to demand better treatment from the BBG and RFE/RL management for all RFE/RL journalists, as well as Voice of America (VOA) contract broadcasters who have filed in a federal court in Washington a $400 million class action discrimination suit against the BBG.
Thank you, Ms. Clooney, for your involvement on behalf of Ms. Ismayilova, and good luck.
RFE/RL PRESS RELEASE
January 21, 2016
WASHINGTON — The announcement by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney that she will defend RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova before the European Court of Human Rights has raised the profile of the case along with hopes among media freedom advocates that the additional attention will help secure Ismayilova’s release.
Ismayilova told RFE/RL today through her Baku lawyer that she accepted Clooney’s offer because of the courage Clooney demonstrated while defending imprisoned Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy in Egypt in 2014.
RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic welcomed the announcement, saying “Amal Clooney’s decision to take the case is a powerful affirmation of Khadija and her journalism,” adding, “It’s a triumph for media freedom already. I know that with their combined strength they will win.”
Ismayilova, an internationally recognized investigative journalist from Azerbaijan, was sentenced in September, 2015 to over seven years in prison on spurious tax and finance-related charges that are widely believed to have been brought in retaliation for her reporting on corruption linked to members of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family. Not a single witness testified against Ismayilova in a trial that rights groups called a “sham.”
International criticism of the Azerbaijani government and Ismayilova’s imprisonment reached a high point in December, 2015 with the introduction of H.R.4264, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act. Introduced by Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), the bill would impose sanctions on Azerbaijani officials implicated in human rights abuses.
Clooney will represent Ismayilova together with Nani Jansen, head of the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative.
END OF RFE/RL PRESSS RELEASE