An Azerbaijani investigative journalist and partner of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, Khadija Ismayilova, says she may face arrest upon her return to Baku from Strasbourg on Friday.
The case against Ismayilova involved a document that she posted on social media alleging that the country’s secret services used an explicit, illegally filmed sex tape to blackmail an opposition activist into informing on other opposition figures.
A criminal libel case has been opened against her and she has been ordered to appear in court on October 3.
Ismayilova says the case is part of a broader crackdown against civil society that has been going on in Azerbaijan since May, when Baku took over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
“I have been warned that, upon returning from my trip, I will be facing arrest and maybe this is another way to warn me…I believe they want me either not to go back to Azerbaijan or to be scared and not be loud about things in Azerbaijan. They have to understand that this is not the way to deal with me,” the investigative reporter said.
According to her, the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan and the special services of Azerbaijan are notorious for using secretly filmed sexual-life tapes against their critics.
“It has been used against me. It has been used against others. For me, this criminal case will be an opportunity to highlight this [practice] in Azerbaijan,” Ismayilova told the RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service.
In addition to hosting a daily program for the service, Ismayilova has written extensively on the business interests of the family of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.
OCCRP editor, Drew Sullivan, the crackdown on journalists in the country started when reporters like Ismayilova started looking at how the Aliyev family had appropriated state assets for what appears to be their own personal gain.
“If a prosecutor really looked carefully at this, I think they would indict the first family for corruption but I doubt that will ever happen in Azerbaijan where crime is a political and not a legal issue,” Sullivan said.
Azerbaijani rights activists say there are 98 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, 14 of whom are journalists and bloggers and that the country is fast becoming a serial violator of human rights especially when it comes to media.