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As smear campaign escalates, IRFS believes journalists' lives are now at risk

UPDATE: Lawsuit by Khadija Ismayilova against prosecutor's office denied (IRFS, 28 July 2012)

(IRFS/IFEX) - 14 March 2012 - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety strongly condemns the smear campaign against Khadija Ismayilova, a highly professional reporter for RFE/RL, and calls upon the authorities to put an end to this foul and nasty campaign.

Today an intimate video clip with scenes from the journalist's private life was posted on an anonymous internet website, which had been set up to suggest a non-existing affiliation with the opposition party.

A week ago, intimate photos – clips from the video - were sent to Khadija Ismayilova. The letter that was enclosed warned the journalists to stop investigating the non-public business of the ruling family. In a response, on the same day, Ismayilova released a public statement announcing that she will continue her professional journalistic activity in spite of this unpleasant blackmail attempt. When it became clear that the journalist had no intent to step back, the perpetrators continued their smear campaign against Ismayilova via the internet, particularly on social networking sites.

Following this, the official newspaper of the ruling party - Yeni Azərbaycan – published a long article against Khadija Ismayilova and other RFE/RL employees. This article indicates the involvement of the Azerbaijani authorities in this blackmail attempt.

Ismayilova has written numerous investigative articles exposing corruption among high-ranking Azerbaijan officials and their families, causing public scandal. She has been targeted by pro-government forces prior to this incident, the state media has repeatedly published smear articles containing false information about Ismayilova.

This foul, cruel action against Ismayilova signals that the freedom of expression situation has reached a new low in Azerbaijan. IRFS believes that the life of every journalist conducting serious investigations on the ruling authorities, including that of Ismayilova, is potentially at risk.

IRFS regrets that the Azerbaijani government's intolerance of free expression in Azerbaijan is not limited to the arrest and murder of journalists, but extends to interference in the private life of the journalists. In the past 7 years, 2 journalists in Azerbaijan – Elmar Huseynov and Rafig Tagi have been murdered. The Azerbaijani authorities, despite their promise to solve the murder in 40 days, have not been able to find answers for the Azerbaijani public. In general, crimes targeting journalists are almost never solved, an indirect indicator that the authorities may be involved.

IRFS calls upon the Azerbaijani authorities to stop campaigning against Khadija Ismayilova, to find and punish the perpetrators of the murder of Elmar Huseynov and Rafig Tagi, to free all journalists arrested under political motives, and to respect the freedom of expression and journalists' right to practice their profession.

IRFS also calls upon international organizations notably the UN, the Council of Europe and OSCE, of which Azerbaijan is a member, to defend freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and to put forward strong demands before the Azerbaijani government.
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