‘Alternative Nobel’ Khadija Ismayilova joins hunger strike to free political prisoners in Azerbaijan
2017 Right Livelihood Award Laureate and investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova from Azerbaijan has joined a hunger strike in support of the jailed Azeri blogger Mehman Huseynov, and demands the release of all political prisoners in the country.
“I joined the hunger strike in solidarity with Mehman Huseynov and other political prisoners. We want them all free as they committed no crime and should not be in prison. The medieval practice of jailing people for criticism must be stopped and I call on the international community to start sanctions against officials who deprive Azerbaijanis of basic rights” said Khadija Ismayilova.
Ismayilova demands the Azeri authorities to do the following:
- Drop charges against five political prisoners who were about to end their prison terms.
- Release all journalists, bloggers, and freedom of expression activists from prison
- Start “zero political prisoners’ policy”, including review of all political prisoners’ cases with the independent human rights activists groups.
“This is the last resort. I have nothing else to sacrifice other than my health”, she wrote on Facebook announcing her hunger strike. Ismayilova has joined at least five others undertaking a hunger strike in protest at Huseynov’s detention and that of all political prisoners in the country. Huseynov has himself been conducting a hunger strike since 28 December 2018, following the filing of new charges that could result in a further 7 years imprisonment beyond his initial release date in March this year.
Under the kleptocratic rule of President Ilham Aliyev any attempt to expose abuses of power by the officials has been met with harsh government repression. According to Human Rights Watch, “the space for independent activism, critical journalism, and opposition political activity in Azerbaijan has been virtually extinguished”. While Reporters without Borders ranks Azerbaijan 163 out of 183 countries in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index.
“Azerbaijan has an exceedingly poor human rights record and we fully support Khadija Ismayilova and the other hunger strikers in their demands for the release of Mehman Huseynov and all the other political prisoners in the country. We are deeply concerned about the safety of the hunger strikers and call on the EU and other members of the international community to put pressure on the Azeri government to stop the crackdown on government critics” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.
Khadija Ismayilova is Azerbaijan’s most outstanding contemporary investigative journalist and received the 2017 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.” Ismayilova has been subjected to smear campaigns, harassment and fabricated criminal charges.
On 10 January she won a case against Azerbaijan in the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled that the authorities must pay 15,000 euros in compensation for failing to investigate an intimate video secretly filmed in Ismayilova’s bedroom. The video, which was filmed with participation of the local state-owned telephone company, was used as a blackmail attempt to stop her critical reporting.