Azerbaijan: European Court win for journalist who faced sex-tape ordeal
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled in favour of an Azerbaijani journalist who was subject to a sex-tape smear campaign after investigating government corruption.
The ECtHR ruled that the Azerbaijani authorities failed to investigate a “sex video” of Radio Free Europe reporter, Khadija Ismayilova, which was covertly recorded in 2012, and also failed to investigate the subsequent threats of its public disclosure.
Ms Ismayilova had been investigating claims of links between President Ilham Aliyev’s family and a lucrative construction project in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku when she received a letter on 7 March 2012 containing intimate pictures of her. Unknown individuals had apparently secretly entered her apartment and placed hidden cameras in her room.
The letter threatened to “shame” her if she did not abandon her journalistic work, but she refused to be silenced and publicly exposed the attempted blackmail. The intimate video recordings were posted online soon afterwards.
Ms Ismayilova applied to the ECtHR in 2014, claiming that the Azerbaijani authorities were either directly responsible for the sex tape, or else did not fulfil their duty to protect her right to privacy and freedom of expression by effectively investigating the case.
In its judgment, the court noted that the authorities in Azerbaijan have created an environment which “may produce a grave chilling effect on freedom of expression”.
The court ruling said that the threat of public humiliation and the invasion of Ms Ismayilova’s privacy were either linked to her work as a journalist, or at least should have been treated as such in the investigation.
It concluded that Azerbaijan has breached its obligation under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to protect journalistic freedom of expression. It has also breached its obligation under Article 8 to protect intrusion into private life.
Levan Asatiani, Amnesty International’s senior campaigner on Europe and Central Asia, said: “Almost seven years after becoming the victim of a vile smear campaign, Khadija Ismayilova has finally been delivered a sliver of justice.
“Khadija is one of many journalists and activists who have been targeted as part of the Azerbaijani government’s ruthless crackdown on dissent. This judgment, which states that Khadija’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression were violated, sends a clear message that Azerbaijan’s repression of human rights defenders will not be tolerated.
“Today’s ruling lays bare the failings of the so-called official investigation into the smear campaign against Khadija Ismayilova. The government must re-open this investigation and ensure that those responsible for the targeting of Khadija Ismayilova are identified and brought to justice.”