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Azerbaijan Court Detains RFE Journalist

  • VOA News

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A court in Azerbaijan has ordered a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist held in pre-trial detention for two months.

Khadija Ismayilova was called Friday to the court in Baku regarding allegations that she had tried to pressure a man to commit suicide. Supporters outside the court chanted her name as she was taken to a detention center.

The chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. government agency that funds RFE/RL and oversees VOA, called for Ismayilova's immediate release. Jeff Shell said the BBG was "outraged" by the detention order. He called it "another attempt by the Azeri government to silence its critics and restrict press freedom."

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. was deeply troubled by what she said were restrictions on civil society in Azerbaijan. She said U.S. officials have become increasingly concerned the Azeri government is not living up to its international commitments.

RFE/RL's editor in chief, Nenad Pejic, called the charges outrageous. He said her detention was part of "a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan."

Two months ago, authorities in Azerbaijan banned Ismayilova from traveling abroad, preventing her from attending international meetings in Washington and Prague. She had been scheduled to testify at a hearing on "combating corruption in the OSCE region" that was called by the U.S. committee of liaison with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Ismayilova has reported extensively about the business dealings involving relatives of Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev. Azerbaijani authorities have denounced her in the past, including Thursday, when RFE/RL reported that Aliyev's chief of staff accused her of treason.

Apart from the travel ban, which Ismayilova said was never formally disclosed to her, she also has been charged in a separate case about a document that she posted on social media, implicating Azerbaijani secret services in a blackmail attempt against an opposition activist