NEW YORK—Prominent Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova continues to face surveillance, official harassment, and a travel ban as retribution for her reports on government corruption and her advocacy on behalf of other imprisoned journalists and activists.

On October 20, a post on Ismayilova’s Facebook page denounced the government for hacking her personal phone as well as the phones of other female family members and publicizing their numbers as sexual service hotlines. She believes this act was in retaliation for her role in publishing an updated list of the regime’s political prisoners. Several days later, a court rejected her request to lift the travel ban imposed upon her since her release from prison earlier this year, preventing her from attending a number of events taking place outside Azerbaijan in the coming months.

“The harassment of and restrictions on Khadija Ismayilova are the latest efforts in an ongoing campaign by Azerbaijani authorities to silence and punish each and every critic,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Despite efforts by the government to burnish its image, the continued persecution of journalists and activists is a clear indication that the dire state of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan has not improved one bit.”

An internationally acclaimed investigative journalist, Ismayilova has reported on the unethical business dealings of the Azerbaijani ruling family since 2010. After a year-long government smear campaign against her, Ismayilova was arrested on charges of “incitement to suicide” and economic crimes in December 2014. During her 18 months in prison, she received the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, as well as several other accolades. In May 2016, Ismayilova was released on probation and granted a suspended sentence after her conviction in a sham trial was widely criticized by a large number of activists and human rights organizations.

Azerbaijan is one of the world’s most restrictive environments for free expression, where more than 20 writers and activists are currently detained, on trial, or jailed, and others are subject to regular harassment, threats, and violence. Earlier this week, pro-democracy activist Giyas Ibrahimov was sentenced to 10 years in prison on dubious charges of drug trafficking.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Karin Deutsch Karlekar:, +1 (646) 779.4822
Sarah Edkins:, +1 (646) 779.4830