FILE - Azerbaijani Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
FILE - Azerbaijani Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

A criminal trial opened Friday in Baku against Azerbaijani award–winning investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, a contributor to RFE/RL. She said she was innocent and declared the case against her “politically motivated.”

Asked whether she objected to the judges hearing her case, Ismayilova said: “I know that you will make a decision based on orders. All judges here are like you. Therefore it does not matter who is the judge in these proceedings.”

She was placed in a glass cage during the hearing, which examined charges against her that include embezzlement, tax evasion and abuse of power. Supporters in the courtroom applauded as she entered.

Ismayilova rejected all the accusations, saying that as a journalist contributing to U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty she was in no position to abuse power or engage in commercial activities.

“Embezzlement can only take place if I am accountable for handling property. But I had no such authority," said Ismayilova. "I was only involved in the content programming.” 

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for the immediate release of Ismayilova and other journalists imprisoned in Azerbaijan.

Ismayilova, who reported extensively on corruption in Azerbaijan as an RFE/RL contributor, was ordered to return to court August 7.

Ismayilova was arrested in December 2014 and charged with provoking a colleague, Tural Mustafayev, to attempt suicide. Mustafayev has since recanted accusations about the incident, saying that Azerbaijani security services blackmailed him into making such claims.

Mustafayev told VOA he has been under continuing pressure from Azerbaijani authorities in connection with the Ismayilova case, and said she opposed the charges against her.

Asked in court Friday about the alleged suicide attempt, Ismayilova testified she had nothing to say, other than that it is the government that takes advantage of people’s vulnerabilities.

“My job is to protect the vulnerable,” she added.

VOA’s Azerbaijani service contributed to this report.