Azerbaijan detained a prominent investigative journalist on Friday whose reporting has often featured the business dealings of top politicians in the country, including investigating government corruption and the massive financial holdings of the president's family.
A court in Baku, the capital, ordered the jailing of Khadija Ismayilova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded by the United States government. She must remain behind bars for at least two months, pending a trial on charges of driving a man to suicide, a crime that carries up to seven years in prison.
The treatment of Ismayilova — who also has reported on alleged corruption and human rights abuses, including the persecution of opposition figures in Azerbaijan — has sparked widespread condemnation from rights groups abroad. Amnesty International condemned it as a "move to silence independent media voices in the country."
Nenad Pejic, the editor-in-chief of Radio Free Europe, 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."
Sex video leaked
Ismayilova has been targeted for her reporting before.
In 2012, after a series of damaging articles on the family of President Ilham Aliyev and its role in lucrative construction projects, she was warned in a letter that her reputation could be compromised, and later a video of her having sex with her boyfriend was published online.
Ismayilova has also exposed how Aliyev's daughters were granted shares in a major national gold mine, how companies they controlled got untendered government contracts and how they routed their holdings through secretive offshore corporations.
On Thursday, the Azerbaijani government released a lengthy memo criticizing the modern-day "colonialism" of the U.S. and accusing journalists at Radio Free Europe's local service of working to promote foreign interests in the country. Azerbaijan has been a staunch military ally of the U.S. and contributed troops to missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to comment on the specific case, but said Friday that the U.S. is "deeply troubled by restrictions on civil society activities, including on journalists in Azerbaijan."
Many activists and independent journalists in this energy-rich Caspian Sea country have been jailed since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, including two rights activists in August.
Ismayilova was one of the more than 100 reporters worldwide who collaborated through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to report on a massive leak of offshore financial records last year. CBC News was a major partner in the undertaking.