Prisoner of Conscience: Elchin Ismayilli
In March 2021, thanks to a presidential pardon, more than 30 secular and religious opposition figures, have been released from prison in Azerbaijan. Among them are as well the journalist Elchin Ismayilli* and many other individuals unjustly incarcerated after the 2015 Nardaran events. The tradition of a broad presidential pardon of prisoners right before the Novruz holiday has led to the release of many high-profile prisoners in the past.
In mid-February 2017, police arrested Azerbaijani journalist Elchin Ismayilli and later charged him with bribery, extortion, and abuse of power.
He is a founder and editor of a news platform called Kend, a local website, which investigates corruption and human rights abuses in the Ismayilli region of Azerbaijan. The journalist has also worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Azerbaijani service and for the independent newspaper Azadliq.
Authorities accused the reporter of trying to blackmail an official from the state tourism agency by threatening to publish a critical article unless he was paid off. Ismayilli denied the charges and said he never covered tourism issues.
In September of the same year, an Azerbaijani court sentenced Ismayilli to nine years in jail. The court found him guilty of extortion, abuse of office, and bribery. A year later, the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to seven years.
Following Ismayilli’s detention and sentence, a number of international rights organizations and media watchdogs called on the Azerbaijani government to release him.
This was not the first time Ismayilli has faced pressure because of his work. In 2014, he was attacked while investigating allegations that local restaurants were illegally tapping the water supply system, leaving villagers without water. A year earlier, local media reported that he had been threatened for covering protests that had erupted in the Ismayilli region. He was one of the very few journalists filming these demonstrations and authorities tried to prevent him from reporting and even offered him bribes. When these tactics to silence him did not work, his brother was arrested on charges of instigating public disorder.
Ismayilli is just one of many journalists, bloggers, and activists who have been unjustly jailed in the past few years in Azerbaijan, a country that has become notorious for its attempts to silence those who criticize the government. In 2019, Ismayilli and four other political prisoners signed an open letter of support for Mehman Huseynov, a prominent blogger, who had been sentenced to two years in jail for what is believed to be trumped-up charges of defamation. That same year, the Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, expressed regret that the country had failed to make any progress when it comes to protecting the free press.
Since Ismayilli can no longer appeal his sentence in Azerbaijan, he has submitted his case to the European Court of Human Rights. He is still awaiting the court’s decision on his appeal.
Disclaimer: As of March 31, 2021, research shows that Elchin Ismayilli is released from prison.
* Ismayilli is both the name of a region in Azerbaijan and the family name of the journalist.
Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe
We feature this year the following prisoners of conscience, out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many. Stay tuned for the release of the other stories. Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience #FreeThemAll