Khadija Ismayilova. Credit: Aziz Karimli

Travel ban stops courageous investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova from receiving 2017 Right Livelihood Award

Press releases 24.11.2017

Outstanding Azerbaijani investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, was recently named a recipient of the 2017 Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’. Ismayilova, who saw her bank account frozen only 10 days ago, is however unable to attend the award presentation in Stockholm on 1 December due to a travel ban.

Khadija Ismayilova, Right Livelihood Award 2017 Laureate, commented:
“I am not the only journalist in Azerbaijan who is facing travel ban and other forms of harassment simply because I dare to criticise the government when they steal people’s money. The root of this evil is corruption. It is important that European leaders acts to stop this, because this evil knows no borders – it intrudes the heart of Europe. One way to do this is to impose sanctions against corrupt politicians and human rights abusers in Azerbaijan.”

Ismayilova is responsible for uncovering a wide range of corrupt and lucrative business deals involving family members of Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev. She has provided irrefutable evidence of corruption at the highest levels of Azerbaijan’s government, which also involved multinational companies like TeliaSonera. Significantly, her articles have uncovered how the wealth of the nation has been plundered, routed abroad and used to influence European politicians.

Azerbaijan is ranked 162 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index. Currently 13 Azerbaijani journalists are in jail and an additional 15 have been banned from leaving Azerbaijan.

Ismayilova has been subjected to smear campaigns, harassment and has served one and a half years in prison on trumped up charges. She was only released in May 2016 after a remarkable international public campaign lead to her sentence being reduced. However, the Ministry of Justice imposed a five year travel ban subsequent to her release. Ismayilova’s attempts to lift the travel ban in order to participate in international events have been rejected by local courts on four separate occasions, most recently on 17 October 2017. Thus, she will not be able to receive her 2017 Right Livelihood Award in Stockholm on Friday, 1 December.

Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation commented:

“Ismayilova is one of the most courageous and skilled investigative journalists of her generation. We call on all Member States of the Council of Europe to issue public statements calling for Khadija Ismayilovas’ travel ban to be withdrawn, her bank account to be unfrozen, and for her and her fellow Azerbaijani journalists to be allowed to work unhindered in an environment free from intimidation. Thanks to Ismayilovas dedicated work, we now know how deeply European politicians and businesses are implicated in corruption and bribery related to Azerbaijan.”

As the government continues to intimidate and jail journalists with an alarming frequency, Ismayilova remains resolute in courageously writing and speaking out for greater government accountability and good governance in Azerbaijan.

Khadija Ismayilova is commended by the international Jury of the Right Livelihood Award “for her courage and tenacity in exposing corruption at the highest levels of government through outstanding investigative journalism in the name of transparency and accountability”.

 The 2017 Right Livelihood Award presentation will continue resolutely on 1 December at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. Malahat Ismayilova, sister of Khadija and pianist and composer at the Opera in Ankara, is one of the artists who will perform during the award presentation, which will be livestreamed on 19.30-20.00 (CET).

The work of Robert Bilott (USA), Colin Gonsalves (India), Khadija Ismayilova, and Yetnebersh Nigussie (Ethiopia) will be celebrated during a week-long programme in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland. Ismayilova is thus not only unable to attend the award presentation but is also prevented from participating in many other events, such as a seminar in the Riksdag’s prestigious Second Chamber, as invited and organised by seven party groups of the Swedish Parliament.


For further information and to arrange interviews with Khadija Ismayilova or other Laureates, please contact Johannes Mosskin, Public Relations Advisor, mobile: +46 (0)70 43 71 148, e-mail:

Further details on the Laureates, alongside high-resolution photographs and videos are available at:

About the Award:

Established in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award honours and supports courageous people and organisations offering visionary and exemplary solutions to the root causes of global problems. In total there are now 170 Laureates from 69 countries. In addition to presenting the annual award, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation also supports the work of its Laureates, particularly those whose lives may be in danger due to the nature of their activities.

About the 2017 Right Livelihood Award Laureates

The 2017 Right Livelihood Award Laureates were announced on 26 September in Stockholm following the decision by an international Jury that considered 102 nominations from 51 countries.

This year’s honorary award goes to Robert Bilott (USA) “for exposing a decades-long history of chemical pollution, winning long-sought justice for the victims, and setting a precedent for effective regulation on hazardous substances.”

The cash award of SEK 3 million is shared equally by three Laureates:

  • Colin Gonsalves (India) is honoured by the Jury “for his tireless and innovative use of public interest litigation over three decades to secure fundamental human rights for India’s most marginalised and vulnerable citizens.”
  • Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan) receives the Award “for her courage and tenacity in exposing corruption at the highest levels of government through outstanding investigative journalism in the name of transparency and accountability.” It is the first time that a Right Livelihood Award goes to a Laureate from Azerbaijan.
  • Yetnebersh Nigussie (Ethiopia) is recognised by the Jury “for her inspiring work promoting the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities, allowing them to realise their full potential and changing mindsets in our societies.”

About the selection process:

Anyone can propose candidates to be considered for a Right Livelihood Award. Through this open nomination process, the Foundation receives a clear indication of what citizens around the world consider to be the most pressing issues of our time, and the individuals who dedicate themselves to solving them. After careful research by the Foundation’s research team, reports on the current proposals are submitted to the Foundation’s board and international Jury. The Jury meets annually in September to select the Recipients. This year, the jury considered 102 nominations from 51 countries.

The Award week

The 2017 Right Livelihood Award programme covers a full week of events and high-level meetings in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland. Some of them are listed below.

30 Nov Meeting with the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström.
1 Dec 13.30-15.00 (CET) Seminar in the Swedish Parliament. The event is livestreamed on the Foundation’s website.
1 Dec 19.30-20.00 (CET) Award presentation at the Vasa Museum. The event is livestreamed on the Foundation’s website, live signal is provided to interested media. The Award presentation is followed by dinner and Laureates’ acceptance speeches.

Monday 4 December: Yetnebersh Nigussie gives the Key Note Speech at the German Inclusion Day.
Monday, 4 December: The Governing Mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, welcomes the Laureates at the Berlin Town Hall (Rotes Rathaus), where they will also sign the Golden Book.
Tuesday, 5 December: Ceremony “Celebrating the Right Livelihood Award Laureates in Berlin”, moderated by the German journalist and talk show host, Sandra Maischberger.

6 Dec 18.30-20.00 (CET) Conversation with 2017 Right Livelihood Award Laureates at Maison de la Paix on 6 December, organised in partnership with The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. Open to the public, register here.
7 Dec Meeting with the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Kate Gilmore.

11 Dec 19.00-20.00 (CET) Public lecture at the Zürich City Hall with 2017 Laureate Yetnebersh Nigussie (Ethiopia). Free entrance, more info here.

Media contacts

Emoke Bebiak

English, French & International Media

Phone: +41 (0)78 333 84 84

Nayla Azzinnari

Spanish Media

Phone: +54 9 11 5460 9860

Nina Tesenfitz

German Media

Phone: +49 (0)170 5763 663

Sydney Nelson

Swedish Media

Phone: +46 (0)73 043 13 01