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Freed Azerbaijani Journalist Vows to Continue Reporting


Azeri Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, speaks to journalists after her release from prison in Baku, Azerbaijan, May 25, 2016.

Azeri Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, speaks to journalists after her release from prison in Baku, Azerbaijan, May 25, 2016.

Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova said Friday that she had no intention of forgiving her government for "jailing me wrongfully for a year and a half" and that she had already resumed working after the Supreme Court this week ordered her release.

Ismayilova told VOA's Azerbaijan service, "I will start where I left off" and become "even more active in the coming days."

She said if the government's purpose was to demoralize her to ensure that her work stopped, "it completely failed in this regard. I worked hard to make sure that it failed in its intentions."

Ismayilova is an award-winning investigative reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, also the parent organization of Voice of America.

She was sentenced in 2015 to seven years in prison on charges of tax evasion and abuse of power after publishing findings on the vast assets of the family of President Ilham Aliyev, in what many said were politically motivated charges.

On Wednesday, the country's Supreme Court cut her sentence in half. She will be allowed to serve the 3½ years at home.

In her interview with VOA, Ismayilova said she would not stop her legal defense until she had been fully acquitted of the charges. She said she intended to appeal her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

WATCH: Video of Ismayilova discussing her case

International pressure

Ismayilova thanked the international community for its support of her, saying that without it, "I would have likely remained in prison for a very long time."

The journalist's release from prison followed immense international pressure and criticism. Officials around the world welcomed her release Wednesday.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said, "As Azerbaijan continues to expand freedom of expression and space for civic and political participation, this will only continue to strengthen the country of Azerbaijan and our bilateral relationship."

John Lansing, CEO and director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, called Ismayilova's release a "positive development for the people of Azerbaijan and a step forward for press freedom."

"I call on the Azerbaijan authorities to lift her travel restrictions, and I urge that her release be accompanied by a relief from the harassment, surveillance and intimidation that she suffered prior to her detainment," he added.

"It is a repressive regime that imprisoned her," U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said in an interview with VOA. "We are happy that she is out of prison, but we still want the world to understand it was wrong for her to be in custody, and it is wrong to impose any restrictions on her."

Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also called for her sentence to be dismissed altogether.

Earlier this week, U.S. Senator John McCain said Ismayilova's arrest was symbolic of the need for reform in Azerbaijan, adding that it would have an effect on Baku's future relations with the United States. "I support taking action against the government of Azerbaijan if they continue to incarcerate her, but more importantly on their continued human rights abuses," the Arizona Republican said in an interview with VOA.

More to be done

Ismayilova said the international community's demands have not been fully met because the charges against her have not been dropped and because numerous political prisoners in the country are still in jail. "In my view, work in this direction must continue," she said.

She also said that her work of reporting corruption must continue.

"As crimes globalize, so must the struggle against these crimes," she said. "These crimes are not local in nature. The money stolen in Azerbaijan gets legalized in offshore accounts, in other countries. Corruption is not a domestic affair of one country."

VOA's Azerbaijan service contributed to this report.

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