Azerbaijan, Baku

Seven Years, Six Months for Khadija Ismayilova or The Shame of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev

Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and presenter on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Azeri-language internet-only station Azadliq Radiosu, is seen during a live broadcast at Azadliq Radiosu's studio in Baku, Azerbaijan on October 31, 2011.

Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and presenter on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azeri-language internet-only station Azadliq Radiosu, is seen during a live broadcast at Azadliq Radiosu’s studio in Baku, Azerbaijan on October 31, 2011.

This is Khadija Ismayiova, a PEN Freedom to Write, International Women’s Media Fund Courage in Journalism award-winning Azerbaijani investigative journalist. Today she was sentenced to seven years and six months in jail in Azerbaijan for the crime of committing really, really good journalism by investigating and reporting accurately and truthfully on the shady business dealings of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family. Unless of course you believe she is guilty of her actual charge, inciting an ex-boyfriend who was compromised by Azerbaijani “Security Services” to suicide – a charge he has since recanted. Oh and p.s. he remains alive to have made the accusation.

The Aliyevs’ interests touch every aspect of the economy, from oil to gold mines to telecoms to aviation to luxury hotels to presumably so much more. We know this because of Khadija’s efforts. Today, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed the Aliyevs interest in yachts allegedly owned by the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic or SOCAR. Wife Mehriban’s biggest problem seems to be that the yachts are too small (and perhaps the champagne has gone flat too? Quel tragèdie!). A group of more than 100 investigative journalists from around the world is committed to continuing Khadija’s important work and Khadija herself has continued to publish letters and investigations from behind bars, meaning her courage and bravery are truly exemplary in the face of tremendous adversity.

So to each of the Aliyevs, President Ilham Aliyev, wife and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, daughters Leyla Aliyeva and Arzu Aliyeva and son Heydar Aliyev, Jr., I wish you well on your future dealings as they have been handled so ineptly until now. I mention the children only because so much of the Aliyevs ill-gotten wealth appears to be stashed off shore in their names and because Leyla fancies herself a renaissance woman of a painter, magazine editor, foundation/NGO leader of the sort that only the children of the most corrupt leaders are allowed. The example shown by Khadija of moral courage in the face of profound corruption and absurdity is a light to all who face adversity of circumstances, and not just in journalism. There are certainly more of us than there are of you, folks who got no bigger issues than yachts that are too small and too much fancy real estate in London, Moscow, Dubai, etc. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Time will reveal to Ilham, Mehriban and the kids Leyla, Arzu and little Heydar that this is a mistake on par with the jailing of Václav Havel in the Czech Republic or Adam Michnik in Poland. You might own everything in the present, but the future is far from certain. And like Havel and Michnik, you will never own Khadija’s soul, spirit and those of her many admirers. Your wealth is ephemeral; their examples and that of Khadija are eternal.