An appeals court in Azerbaijan has upheld a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence for a prominent journalist who had reported on the business interests of President Ilam Aliyev's family.
The Baku Court of Appeal rejected Khadija Ismayilova’s request Nov. 25 that it overturn her conviction for charges including tax evasion, abuse of authority and illegal commercial activity, the Azeri news service APA reported. Ismayilova, a contributor to U.S.-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Azeri language service, has been jailed since Dec. 5, 2014.
The United States, the European Union and a number of human rights groups have criticized her jailing. In a statement following the appeals verdict, Austria's foreign minister called the decision "clearly politically motivated.”
Ismayilova may still appeal the decision to Azerbaijan's supreme court as well as the European Court of Human Rights. Azerbaijan is among the 10 most censored countries in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Dissidents and critical journalists are routinely jailed or forced into exile.
Prior to her arrest last year, Ismayilova wrote a blog post detailing her wishes in the event she is arrested.
"IF/WHEN I get arrested, I want you to make sure that your audience understand the reasons," she wrote. "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.”
In keeping with her wishes, Ismayilova's colleagues and friends have continued her work on corruption in Azerbaijan. The work is published on a website called "The Khadija Project."
The current case is not Ismayilova's first run-in with the Azeri authorities. While in jail earlier this year, Ismayilova was convicted and fined for libel in a separate case for posting a document on Facebook that allegedly detailed an operation by Azerbaijan's security services to spy on the country's opposition.
In 2012, after reporting on government corruption, she received a threatening letter reading, “Whore, behave. Or you will be defamed.” It included intimate photos from inside her home taken with a hidden camera. A surreptitiously recorded sex tape of her was later released on the Internet.
Ismayilova has won numerous awards for her work, including the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write award.