WASHINGTON - A court in Baku on Tuesday postponed an appeal by an imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist convicted on libel charges that international human rights groups say were trumped up.
The appeals court in Azerbaijan's capital held a hearing on the case of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq, but adjourned without reaching a decision.
Speaking to a VOA correspondent present in the courtroom Tuesday, Ismayilova had a message for her fellow Azerbaijani journalists.
"Stay strong," she said. "I expect good investigative journalism from you. I am strong. Do not worry about me."
Index on Censorship, an international freedom of expression advocacy group based in London, denounced the indefinite postponement of Ismayilova's appeal.
“The continued judicial harassment of Khadija Ismayilova by Azerbaijani authorities is cruel and unjust,” said Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg, in a statement Tuesday. “As Azerbaijan prepares to host this summer’s inaugural European Games, it is worth remembering that the treatment of Ismayilova flies in the face of the principles of press freedom and human dignity enshrined in the Olympic Charter.”
Tuesday's court hearing came a week after Ismayilova was given the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
“Khadija Ismayilova knows no fear," said PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel in announcing the award. "Again and again she has unearthed and exposed stories that have cast a harsh light on widespread corruption and self-dealing at the highest levels of the Azeri government.”
Ismayilova was arrested and jailed December 5 on charges of inciting a former colleague to attempt suicide - charges that have since been withdrawn by her accuser. Subsequently, other charges were leveled against her, such as tax evasion, illegal business activity, and abuse of power.
Ismayilova has rejected all charges as politically motivated and false, and RFE/RL has characterized them as having “no basis in reality.”
Representatives of The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. agency that oversees RFE/RL and Voice of America, have repeatedly contacted Azerbaijani officials to protest her incarceration.
In June, Azerbaijan will host the first-ever European Games. A group of prominent writers and editors, including many American, have written to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, urging him to demand Ismayilova’s release and condemn human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.
VOA’s Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report.