Letter From Azerbaijan Jail: Khadija Ismayilova Speaks Out
The eyes of the world are on my country, my beloved Azerbaijan, as it hosts the inaugural European Games, beginning on Friday. The tourists and athletes are enjoying the spectacle of the opening ceremony while the international public watches on television at home.
But I will not see the games. I don’t know what the weather is like or how bad the Baku traffic is. I have access to very little information of any kind. I am sitting in my cell in the Kurdakhani prison — my home for the past six months.
I am a journalist, in jail for my work exposing corruption at the highest levels of the Azerbaijani government. I have been targeted, along with dozens of other political prisoners — fellow journalists, human rights defenders, youth activists, politicians and others — for telling the truth about the situation in my country. Azerbaijan’s best and brightest have been locked up, tucked away for the European Games. They didn’t want you to see or hear us and our inconvenient truths.
The truth is that Azerbaijan is in the midst of a human rights crisis. Things have never been worse. As those at the top continue to profit from corruption, ordinary people are struggling to work, struggling to live, struggling for freedom. And we must struggle with them, for them.
I am carrying on my struggle here, from jail. My investigations into corruption continue, thanks to the help of dedicated colleagues. I have been punished for speaking out from jail, placed into solitary confinement, and prevented from seeing my family and lawyers. My notes have been seized from my cell. As I have said before, if this is the price to pay, it is worth it.
Today, I say to the international community: Do not let the government of Azerbaijan distract your attention from its record of corruption and abuse. Keep fighting for human rights, for those who are silenced. Keep fighting for right, and for good. Be loud, and be public. The people of Azerbaijan need to know that their rights are supported.
And please, don’t call just for my freedom; call for the release of all political prisoners. Stand up for freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. Stand up for human rights.
The writer is an investigative journalist, detained since December in Azerbaijan. She is the recipient of the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Prize. The Sport for Rights campaign obtained this letter through intermediaries and submitted it to The Times via PEN American Center, a member of the campaign.