BBG Watch Commentary
According to a Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) today’s press release expressing “outrage and dismay at the sentencing of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative reporter and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Azerbaijani Service,” and calling for her immediate release, “RFE/RL and BBG representatives have repeatedly contacted Azerbaijani officials to protest her case without success.”
BBG Watch and its commentators have pointed numerous times over the past several months that the Broadcasting Board of Governors Board should not have relied on its own executives, some of whom have caused various management crises at both RFE/RL and at the BBG, to handle such a sensitive issue as trying to negotiate the release of RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova. These executives have an established record of causing problems for the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the U.S. Government in general in public relations, public diplomacy, handing of government contracts and other management functions.
Their poor performance has been aptly documented in the Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports. Their public presence and involvement could have only interfered with high-level, experienced and competent U.S. State Department diplomats who should have been completely in charge of negotiating Khadija Ismayilova’s release from the very beginning. It’s time to leave this matter in the hands of professionals and for the Azeri authorities to realize that they must immediately release Khadija Ismayilova or face consequences. The State Department should made this absolutely clear to the government in Baku.
BBG PRESS RELEASE
SEPTEMBER 1, 2015
WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors today expressed outrage and dismay at the sentencing of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative reporter and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Azerbaijani Service, and called for her immediate release.
On September 1, a court in Azerbaijan sentenced Ismayilova to seven and a half years in prison. Ismayilova was arrested on politically motivated charges on December 5, 2014, and has been held in pretrial detention since.
“We are appalled by today’s verdict,” said BBG Chairman Jeff Shell. “This sentence is clearly retribution for Khadija exposing government corruption and sends a warning shot to other journalists in the country. By passing down this verdict, the Azeri government has demonstrated to the international community that it disdains press freedom, supports its own impunity and has little regard for human rights.”
Khadija is not the only journalist to be silenced in Azerbaijan. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least seven other journalists have been imprisoned this year. On December 26, 2014, RFE/RL’s Baku bureau was raided and closed by agents of the state’s “grave crimes investigations committee” in connection with a new law on “foreign agents.”
In a statement to the court yesterday, Khadija said that exposing the “corruption and lawlessness” of the Azeri government would not stop with her imprisonment.
“I might be in prison, but the work will continue,” she said told the court. “We wrote, informed the community, even if the price for it was arrest and blackmail…I am still happy that I fulfilled my job.”
RFE/RL and BBG representatives have repeatedly contacted Azerbaijani officials to protest her case without success.
Khadija’s tenacity and quality investigative reporting have won her international accolades. In July the National Press Club honored Khadija with a John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, and in April she was awarded the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Prior to her arrest, she received a Global Shining Light Award and an International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award, among others.
BBG joins RFE/RL, the U.S. Department of State, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and many other officials and organizations in denouncing the Azerbaijani government’s imprisonment of Ismayilova and its systematic assault on the freedom of expression.
END OF BBG PRESS RELEASE