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Azerbaijan Frees Khadija Ismayilova, Journalist Who Exposed Official Corruption

The released journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, had been serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence on charges that included embezzlement and tax evasion, which her supporters described as part of a government effort to stifle dissent.

Criticism of Ms. Ismayilova’s prosecution and incarceration last September had turned into an embarrassment for President Ilham Aliyev, who says Azerbaijan’s nine million residents enjoy freedom of speech.

An order for her release, conveyed by the country’s Supreme Court, came a few weeks after Ms. Ismayilova was awarded an annual press freedom prize sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco.

Ms. Ismayilova was a contributing correspondent to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a broadcaster funded by the United States government. She had reported on allegations of corruption in Azerbaijan, including activities involving members of Mr. Aliyev’s family.

Under the release order, Ms. Ismayilova’s sentence was reduced to a suspended sentence of three and a half years, and she was freed on probation under conditions that will confine her to Baku, the country’s capital. In comments to news agencies after her release, she vowed to seek a full acquittal and to “continue my journalist work with renewed energy.”

Last year, Ms. Ismayilova was the winner of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write award given by the PEN American Center, a prominent press-advocacy group based in New York.

PEN American Center, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Council of Europe all said they were encouraged by Ms. Ismayilova’s release.

Suzanne Nossel, executive director of the PEN American Center, called Ms. Ismayilova “an intrepid force exposing corruption in Azerbaijan,” and said her release “is a victory for journalists everywhere who go up against the toughest regimes bent on silencing those who dare challenge them.”

Mr. Aliyev’s government granted pardons to 148 prisoners in March, including a number of human rights activists and journalists, but others remain incarcerated.

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 57-nation group that includes Azerbaijan, said in a statement that Ms. Ismayilova’s release was a “very positive step,” but it urged the Azerbaijani authorities to drop all charges against her and “release the remaining imprisoned journalists.”



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