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ECHR rules in favour of journalist Khadija Ismayilova over sex-tape articles

8 May 2020
Khadija Ismayilova. Photo: RFE/RL.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has made a third ruling in favour of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, ordering the Azerbaijani Government to pay her €6,000 ($6,500) in compensation and legal costs.

The court ruled on Thursday that the government failed to protect her right to respect for her private life and her reputation. Ismayilova had complained that domestic courts dismissed her complaints against newspapers that publicised the leak of a secretly recorded sex-tape of her.

In 2012, several pro-government newspapers and websites conducted what Ismayilova called a ‘smear campaign’ against her. This included widely publicising a sex tape that was filmed with a hidden camera installed in her flat.

Ismayilova thanked her lawyers on Facebook on Thursday but said that the government had failed to implement the two previous ECHR decisions.

The ruling was the third in Ismayilovs’s favour this year. In January, the ECHR ruled that the Azerbaijani authorities violated her rights to privacy and freedom of expression by failing to effectively investigate how the recordings were made. The court awarded her €16,750 ($18,100).

In February, the court ruled that her prison sentence of 7.5 years, which was later reduced to a 3-year suspended sentence, was unlawful and was aimed to ‘silence and punish her for her work as a journalist’. They obliged the government to pay her €20,000 ($22,000) in damages and €5,000 ($5,500) in expenses.

[Read more on OC Media: ECHR rules detention of Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova was unlawful]

Ismayilova, who worked for RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service, Radio Azadlig, at the time, was sentenced in September 2015 to 7.5 years on charges including tax evasion and ‘abuse of authority’.

Ismayilova had published several investigations into the activities of President Ilham Aliyev and his friends and relatives shortly before her arrest. She said at the time that she never set out to target them but that their names kept appearing in her investigations.

The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan overturned her conviction on some of the charges against her in May 2015 and reduced her sentence to three years probation, after which she was conditionally released.

Despite this, Ismayilova still faced several other restrictions including a travel ban, which the Court of Appeals declined to lift in January 2018.

‘Ultimate indictment of Azerbaijani authorities’

Amnesty International, who previously recognised Ismayilova as a prisoner of conscience, hailed Thursday’s ruling as the ‘ultimate indictment of Azerbaijani authorities’.

‘The European Court’s decision exposes the complicity of Azerbaijan’s judicial system in silencing a prominent journalist and attacking the right to freedom of expression in the country.’

‘Not only has Khadija Ismayilova served a prison sentence under false charges, she has suffered years of harassment by the authorities, intrusion into her personal life and vilification in state-run media’, said Natalia Nozadze, Amnesty International’s South Caucasus researcher.

‘The European Court’s decision also reveals the Azerbaijani authorities’ shameless misogyny in their smear campaign against a female journalist’, she said.

The group called on the Azerbaijani authorities to fully implement the court’s ruling, which includes ‘paying the awarded compensation, bringing all those responsible for human rights violations to account, and putting an end to political abuse of Azerbaijan’s judicial system’.

George Stafford, co-director of the European Implementation Network, a Strasbourg-based NGO lobbying for the effective implementation of ECHR judgements, warned that Azerbaijan’s record on implementing judgements was ‘extremely poor’.

‘In fact, it’s the worst record of all 47 Council of Europe states’, Stafford told OC Media.

‘In order to implement a judgement of the ECHR you have to do two things. First, provide justice to the individual involved, which is often paying compensation or acquitting someone.’

Stafford described this as an ‘arduous process’ in Azerbaijan.

‘What the Azerbaijani Government usually does is pay in monthly instalments over a very long period of time, sometimes irregularly.’

‘That’s one area where the government implements judgements very poorly but it’s really in the other area of implementation where they fare even worse, and that’s regarding general reforms.

‘When there is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights there has to be justice for individuals but there also has to be justice for wider society so reforms are supposed to happen to prevent the same thing from happening again, and that’s known as general measures.’

‘As far as I know, the Azerbaijani government has never carried out any reforming measures of any kind as a result of judgements of the ECHR’

‘That essentially means that the underlying routine human rights violations that are happening to people in Azerbaijan are not being remedied.’

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