Journalist Elchin Ismayilli is serving a seven-year sentence on extortion charges in retaliation for his reporting on corruption and human rights violations. Ismayilli can no longer appeal his sentence in Azerbaijan, and his lawyer has submitted his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Police detained Ismayilli, editor and founder of news website Kend, on February 17, 2017, and initially accused him of threatening a local government official, the independent news website Meydan TV reported. The following day, police charged the journalist with attempted extortion and abuse of office, according to Meydan TV.
Kend, now defunct, was known for reporting on corruption and human rights violations in the Ismayilli region in Azerbaijan’s northwest.
Ismayilli also contributed to the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service, locally known as Azadliq, and the independent newspaper Azadliq.
Police claimed that Ismayilli attempted to extort 1,000 manats (US$600) from a state tourism agency official, and threatened to publish compromising material on the tourism industry should the official fail to pay, regional independent news site Kavkazsky Uzel reported.
Ismayilli denied the charges, and said he never reported on tourism. Ismayilli’s lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, said the journalist asked his acquaintance, who worked at the local department of culture and the tourism ministry, to borrow 1,000 Azerbaijani manats (US$600), according to Kavkazsky Uzel.
Azerbaijan’s Sheki city Court for Grave Crimes on September 18, 2017, sentenced Ismayilli to nine years in prison on charges of bribery, extortion, and abuse of power in office, according to media reports. The journalist denied all charges, and said he would appeal the court’s decision.
On November 20, 2018, the Supreme Court reviewed the journalist’s appeal, annulled the charges of abuse of power and bribery, and reduced Ismayilli’s sentence to seven years, Azadliq reported.
Ganimat Zayidov, the editor-in-chief of Azadliq, told CPJ in September 2019 via messaging app that the journalist suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. He is able to receive medical care but prisoners must be able to pay for it or family members and others can assist with paying for it, Zayidov said.
Zayidov also told CPJ that Ismayilli’s case was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after the Supreme Court’s ruling in November 2018. In September 2020, Rasul Jafarov, chairman of the Baku Human Rights Club, told CPJ via messaging app that, according to Ismayilli’s brother Elshan Ismayilli, with whom Jafarov recently communicated, the ECHR had not yet issued a decision on his appeal.
Jafarov told CPJ that the journalist is serving his sentence in prison colony No. 17 in the town of Bina near Baku, the capital, according to Ismayilli’s brother. Ismayilli is allowed to call his relatives on the phone three times a week, but they cannot visit him because they live in a remote rural area of Azerbaijan’s Ismayilli region, Jafarov said.
Jafarov told CPJ that Ismayilli did not have complaints about his health.
In September 2020, CPJ emailed a request for comment to Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, which oversees the country’s prison system, but did not receive a response.