Famed international rights lawyer Amal Clooney says Azerbaijan is abusing its power by trying to silence critics of the regime, including imprisoned reporter Khadija Ismayilova.
Clooney, who is helping represent Ismayilova before Europe's top human rights court, also said that the case against Ismayilova was wholly politically motivated, aimed at keeping her from continuing her corruption investigations of President Ilham Aliyev and his family members.
"I believe it's important to protect an individual journalist against a powerful state that has overstepped. This is about a government that is abusing its power to silence journalists like Khadija, as well as other critics of the ruling regime," Clooney told RFE/RL in an e-mail conversation on March 15.
"It's important to fight for the right of journalists to tell the world what is happening in their countries," she said.
Clooney submitted a lengthy filing to the ECHR on behalf of Ismayilova on March 14, in response to written submissions filed by Azerbaijan earlier this year.
"I will continue to advocate for her release until she is free," she said.
Ismayilova, a renowned investigative reporter and regular contributor to RFE/RL, was arrested in Baku in December 2014 and put on trial on charges that her supporters said were politically motivated.
In September, a Baku court sentenced her to 7½ years in prison, a ruling that prompted international criticism.
Joining defense team
Clooney confirmed in January that she would be joining Ismayilova's defense, a move that brings substantial legal and public clout to her case.
In the case she is bringing before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Clooney told RFE/RL that she and her co-counsel were arguing that there was no genuine suspicion that Ismayilova committed any of the crimes she was charged with and that there was no justification for her pretrial detention.
"Khadija's case is emblematic of a wider crackdown on journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan," she said. "Azerbaijan has one of the highest rates of imprisonment of journalists in the world, and yet this is a country that is a member of the Council of Europe, an organization whose goal is to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. This is something that should concern us all."
Visitors kept from journalist
Earlier this month, activists and journalists were turned away by Azerbaijani authorities as they attempted to visit Ismayilova on the eve of International Women’s Day, March 8.
The entourage negotiated for over an hour with the authorities, trying to at least pass on flowers to Ismayilova. But, citing prison procedures on visitation hours, the authorities refused to accommodate their requests, activists said.
“The fact that we were not allowed to present our gifts to her or even meet with her shows how much the government fears Khadija,” journalist Aynur Imranova told VOA. “We will not allow her name to be forgotten.”
Clooney is also currently representing the former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, who was convicted of terrorism in a case that has drawn international criticism.
Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected leader, was ousted in 2012 for ordering the arrest of a judge. He is serving a 13-year jail term after a rapid trial in March.
The United Nations, the United States and human rights groups have said President Abdullah Yameen's government failed to follow due process and that the case against Nasheed was politically motivated.
On Tuesday, to mark the fifth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, Clooney and her husband, actor George Clooney, met with Syrian migrants living in Berlin.
The conflict in Syria has killed more than 250,000 and displaced millions. It has also fed the largest migrant crisis in Europe since World War Two.
RFE/RL contributed to this report.