A smear campaign against an Azeri investigative journalist must be investigated after an intimidate video recording appeared online, Amnesty International said.
Radio Free Europe reporter Khadija Ismayilova has been investigating claims of links between President Ilham Aliyev’s family and a lucrative construction project in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest which the country is hosting in May.
She received a letter on 7 March containing pictures of her having sex, after unknown individuals apparently broke into her apartment and placed hidden cameras in her room.
The pictures were accompanied by a note warning her that she would be “shamed” if she did not abandon her work. She refused and publicly exposed the blackmail attempt, resulting in the video’s publication.
“This is a despicable attempt to discredit a journalist in the process of investigating of government corruption at the highest level,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.
On 14 March the video was posted on a fake mirror website of Azerbaijan’s main opposition party. Leaders of the Musavat party have denied any link with the site.
“The fact that those behind this appalling campaign were able to place a camera inside Khadija Ismayilova’s home, then attempted to lay the blame with an opposition party,,points very much to official involvement”, said Dalhuisen
“This vicious attack has been clearly been intended to do maximum damage to her reputation and puts her at risk of violence in predominantly conservative Azerbaijan.”
“The authorities must bring to justice those responsible through a thorough, impartial and effective investigation.“
After receiving the pictures last week, Khadija Ismayilova published an open letter, detailing the threats and said she was prepared for the consequences.
On Tuesday, an article fiercely attacking her character appeared in Yeni Azerbaijan, a state-owned newspaper.
Khadija Ismayilova has fallen foul of the Azerbaijani authorities several times in the past.
According to a US embassy cable leaked by Wikileaks, in January 2009 President Aliyev complained about her at a meeting with a senior US official, describing her as “a long-time opposition activist who considers herself an enemy of the government”.
President Aliyev reportedly asked the American ambassador to Baku to push for her dismissal by US-funded Radio Liberty.
The reporter has told Amnesty International she will not give in to threats:
“They thought this would destroy me, but they have destroyed themselves. Now the world will know how independent journalists are treated in Azerbaijan.”