NEW YORK—The arrest of journalist and translator Khadija Ismayilova is a blight on the international image of Azerbaijan, PEN American Center said in a joint statement issued today with acclaimed author and PEN Member Khaled Hosseini.

Ismayilova was arrested December 5 in Baku on spurious charges of inciting a man to suicide, and was subsequently sentenced to two months in pretrial detention. A leading investigative journalist whose work sheds light on deep-seated corruption and persistent human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, Ismayilova also translated Hosseini’s best-selling novel The Kite Runner to Azeri.

“I am deeply saddened by the news that the Azerbaijani government has arrested Khadija Ismayilova,” said Hosseini in a plea for the release of his Azeri translator. “As a writer, I value as sacred the freedom to write and share ideas without fear of persecution, a liberty essential to any sort of meaningful dialogue.  The Azerbaijani government’s many attempts to silence Khadija and strip her of this freedom speak volumes about her courage and influence in the face of extreme oppression.”

Persistent attempts to silence Ismayilova have come from as high up as the presidency. The day before her arrest, the Chief of Staff to President Ilham Aliyev issued a 60-page statement accusing Ismayilova of “defiance” and displaying a “destructive attitude toward well-known members of the Azerbaijani community” in service of foreign patrons—a reference to her work for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).  On December 26, the RFE/RL office in Baku was ransacked by police. A dozen other RFE staffers were held for questioning for 12 hours following raids on their homes on the following night.

Ismayilova was named one of the Brave Thinkers of the world by The Atlantic in 2012. Her other accolades include the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Gerd Bucerius Free Press of Eastern Europe Award, and the Global Shining Light Award for her reporting on “questionable business dealings” involving the president’s family.

“I am honored that Khadija was the voice that brought my story to Azerbaijan,” said Hosseini. “Now it is my time to add mine to hers. I hope the world will join me in calling for her immediate release and unconditional return to her important work as a journalist.”


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 3,700 American writers working to bring down barriers to free expression worldwide. 

Dominic Moran, Director of Free Expression Programs: [email protected], 212.334.1660 x 4822
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager: [email protected], m. (347) 927-9505