One of the most famous critics of the Aliyev regime has been imprisoned in Baku. Khadija Ismayilova, an award winning investigative journalist was arrested for ‘inciting suicide’. If found guilty she faces up to seven years in prison. Ismayilova has spent years uncovering corruption in Azerbaijan, which she has traced all the way up to the President’s family. In an article published just before her arrest, Ramiz Mehdiyev, head of the Presidential Administration, accused Ismayilova of treason and espionage.
Ismayilova’s lawyer Elton Guliyev said there was no evidence against her and the ruling was “absurd”. This is not the first time Ismayilova has been targeted by the regime. In 2012 she was sent pictures of herself having sex with her boyfriend taken by a hidden camera in her apartment. The pictures were accompanied by a letter telling her to keep quiet or be “shamed”. After going public a tape of her having sex was released online. Khadija Ismayilova has managed to issue a statement from jail, she said “The charges against me are fabricated. The charges are put forward as part of the dirty and black PR. Despite all of this, I remain strong.”
Ismayilova’s arrest is part of an unprecedented wave of repression in Azerbaijan that has seen many key activists jailed including Intigam Aliyev a renown human rights lawyer, Rasul Jafarov, a key activist who organised the Sing for Democracy campaign during the 2012 Eurovision song contest and prominent human rights defender Leyla Yunus. Yunus has just put out a statement describing how several men entered her cell and sexually threatened her.
The human rights situation in Azerbaijan has never been worse and yet public banks supported by EU countries are gearing up to offer a one billion dollar loan to Russian company Lukoil for gas extraction in Azerbaijan. Half a billion dollars from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and another half billion from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are planned to be invested in Lukoil’s 10 percent share in the Shah Deniz offshore gas field in Azerbaijan (a final decision by the banks is expected in early 2015). The Aliyev regime are hoping to export this gas through the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Northern Italy.
Activists in Azerbaijani are talking out against the pipeline – the money from which will further entrench the Aliyev government. Shortly before his arrest Rasul Jafarov commented that: “Before the oil and gas incomes came to Azerbaijan we had more democracy and freedom. The main income from oil came in 2006 when the Baku-Tibilsi-Ceyhan pipeline started to operate. And from that time the situation started to deteriorate.”
The regime has held onto power for two decades through a combination of fraudulent elections, arresting opposition candidates, beating protesters and curtailing media freedom. Today there are 98 political prisoners in jail and many other human rights defenders are being threatened with arrest. The hydrocarbon revenues created through activities have entrenched the Aliyev regime, providing them with the finance needed to pay security forces and establish a secure income base (meaning they don’t have to listen to citizens voices because they are not reliant on those citizens for a tax base).
Corruption is a key part of the how the Aliyev regime functions. The money from the oil industry was supposed to be controlled by the State Oil Fund for Azerbaijan (SOFAZ), which was intended to finance the transition our economy away from oil and to ensure the wealth was kept for future generations. Instead much of it has been pumped into over-priced construction projects. Intentional price inflation enables companies to make large amounts of money from construction projects and much of Azerbaijan’s oil and gas revenue ends up in offshore bank accounts.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty Editor Nenad Pejic said “The arrest and detention of Khadija Ismayilova is the latest attempt in a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan. The charges brought against her today are outrageous. Khadija is being punished for her journalism”
Emma Hughes, Energy Campaigner at Platform London said: “The EBRD couldn’t have chosen a worse time to lend to Lukoil. This project is vital to the Aliyev regime, providing both money and influence. Lending to the project now sends a clear signal that Europe doesn’t care about crushing of democracy”.