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Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova faces travel ban, defamation charges in Azerbaijan

The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety resolutely condemns the campaign against Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, and calls on the authorities to end this harassment immediately.

The criminal defamation lawsuit brought against Khadija Ismayilova in a private prosecution case, the accusations of treason published in the pro-government media (cooperation with Armenia), and her recent detention at Baku Airport are clear indicators that her arrest may be imminent.

Most recently, the Prosecutor General's Office has imposed a travel ban on Khadija Ismayilova, prohibiting her from leaving the country. As a consequence, she was unable to fly to Prague on October 12, to take her place at the international Forum 2000 conference. She was informed by border officials at Baku Heydar Aliyev Airport that the Prosecutor General's Office has imposed a ban on her departure from the country. However, she has not been presented any court decision in relation to the travel ban.

Imposing a travel ban without any legitimate grounds interferes with Ismayilova's professional work as a journalist and constitutes a flagrant violation of her right to freedom of movement, enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights, ratified by Azerbaijan in 2002.

By taking action in relation to defamation charges against a journalist at a time when it chairs the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE), the Azerbaijani government is demonstrating once again its unwillingness to fulfill its pledge to decriminalize defamation, a commitment it made upon accession to the CoE.

The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety notes that Khadija Ismayilova is being targeted for her investigations into high-level corruption involving the family of President Ilham Aliyev, her determined advocacy for official transparency, and her work in informing the international community about the situation of human rights, particularly freedom of expression, in Azerbaijan.

The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety reminds the international community that the past two months have seen unprecedented human rights violations by Azerbaijani officials. There are more than 10 journalists and bloggers behind bars; there has been a wave of arrests of human rights defenders; organizations defending media freedom have been shutdown. The government's repressive policy in the field of human rights could hardly be more evident.

The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety emphasizes that the freedoms of expression and information are protected under a number of international treaties and legal instruments signed and ratified by Azerbaijan, inter alia the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19) and the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10).

The UN Human Rights Council's recent resolution on the safety of journalists has strongly condemned all cases of attacks and violence against journalists, including harassment and intimidation.

The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety calls upon the President Aliyev to take concrete steps to eliminate the assault on freedom of expression and to decriminalize defamation, reminding him of his constitutional responsibility as the guarantor of the rights of citizens.

The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety calls on international organizations, particularly the Council of Europe and the OSCE, to take a firm stand and put more pressure on the government of Azerbaijan to fulfill its obligations related to freedom of expression, and specifically to demand the immediate adoption of the draft law decriminalizing defamation.

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