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New charges brought against detained Azeri journalist Khadija Ismayilova

New trumped-up charges carrying a possible 12-year jail sentence were brought today against leading independent journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who has been in pre-trial detention for more than two months.

Arrested on 5 December for supposedly inciting a colleague to attempt suicide, Khadija Ismayilova is now charged with large-scale embezzlement, illegal trading, tax evasion and abuse of authority under articles 179.3.2, 192.2.2, 213.1 and 308.2 of the criminal code.

“We reiterate our call for Ismayilova's immediate release and the withdrawal of all the charges against her,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This journalist's only crime was investigating corruption at the highest government level and helping the political prisoners that fill Azerbaijan's jails.”

The new charges follow a 26 December raid on the Baku bureau of Radio Azadlig (the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), which Ismayilova ran until just over four years ago. Radio Azadlig was closed and placed under seal after being searched.

Ismayilova's lawyer, Fariz Namazly, said the authorities were just trying to compensate for the flimsiness of the initial charges brought against her. The new charges are nothing new, inasmuch as human rights defenders such as Intigam Aliyev, Rassoul Djafarov and Anar Mamedli are being held on similar ones.

Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index after registering one of the biggest falls in score of any of the 180 countries in the index because of an unprecedented crackdown of the few remaining critics and independent voices.

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