An Azerbaijani journalist who exposed an apparent government effort to spy on the country’s opposition has faced repeated questioning by police and a government investigation.
Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has been banned from leaving the capital Baku without government permission and could face as long as seven years in jail if charged, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Authorities from Azerbaijan’s Serious Crimes Investigation Department have repeatedly questioned Ismayilova since Feb. 18 for leaking state secrets. The investigation came after she posted an apparent government document on Facebook that told of efforts to recruit an Azerbaijani opposition activist as an informant for the country’s security service, the MNB, the New York-based press group said.
“If/when I get arrested, I want you to make sure that your audience understand the reason,” she wrote on Facebook Feb. 19 in a post titled ‘If I get arrested,’ according to the Armenian newspaper Hetq. “Anti-corruption investigations are the reason of my arrest. The government is not comfortable with what I am doing. I am about to finish three investigations. I will make sure to finish them before anything happens. If not, my editors and colleagues will finish and publish [them]."
U.S. officials and international press groups have condemned the government response.
“Ms. Ismayilova has been the target of consistent and sordid attacks by the government because of her investigative journalism,” Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., told the Armenian newspaper Panorama.
“The current charges against her include espionage on behalf of the United States. These charges are clearly fabricated and punitive in nature […]Ms. Ismayilova’s harassment and detention are part of an unfortunate string of politically-motivated arrests of Azerbaijani’s who are exercising their rights to free speech.”
Ismayilova has faced government scrutiny on several occasions. In March 2012, she was threatened for an investigation she was doing about the Eurovision Song Contest and corruption in construction projects. In April 2013, she and her boyfriend were secretly recorded in her apartment and the video was posted online as Ismayilova investigated posible corruption involving the family of President Ilham Aliyev, the Washington Post reported. The harassment continued through the year.