Saturday, March 10, 2012

ARTICLE: Azeri Journalist Alleges Blackmail Attempt. By Karl Raher (

Azerbaijan’s best-known journalist (who also happens to be Azerbaijan’s best journalist, period) alleged yesterday that she is being victimized in a blackmail attempt. Khadija Ismayilova, who writes for a number of publications and hosts the popular “After Work” radio show for RFE/RL’s Baku bureau, made the allegations after receiving a letter containing photographs of a very personal and “intimate” nature.
According to Khadija, the envelope was postmarked in Moscow, and contained not only embarrassing photographs, but a note which read, “Whore, behave. Or you will be defamed.”
I’ve actually suspected long before now that something like this would happen to Khadija, given her tireless investigative journalism, which has included exposés of corruption at the very highest level of Azerbaijan’s government.
And her efforts have been noticed – by international organizations such as the German ZEIT Foundation, which recognized Khadija earlier this year, and Azerbaijan’s ruling family.
In a revealing exchange between President Aliyev and former US diplomat Matthew Bryza, the president complained bitterly to Bryza in 2008 about the RFE’s tone toward his administration in general and Khadija in particular:
“The President said that Radio Liberty has selected people only from the opposition to work in their bureau here. He said that the local editor Khadija Ismayilova is a long-time opposition activist who considers herself to be an enemy of the government.”
Dirty tactics against perceived opponents, as Khadija herself has pointed out in the last 24 hours, are not at all unusual in Azerbaijan, where honest, independent journalism is an exceedingly hazardous undertaking. Readers not aware of modern Azerbaijan’s distinction in this area might familiarize themselves with the murder of opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov in 2005 or the killing of Rafiq Tagi last year, or prosecutions of journalists such as Sakit Zahidov and Eynullah Fatullayev.
While the mysterious blackmail letter sent to Khadija was apparently from Moscow and not Baku, this is surely beside the point. The intent, if the letter is what Khadija claims it to be, is to silence one of Azerbaijan’s most courageous voices.
Authoritarian governments and their allies often resort to this sort of crude tactic to send a chilling message to political opponents and journalists. Vladimir Putin’s Russia, for example, has seen the release of a number of explicit, sexually-oriented videos of people such as Russian Newsweek editor Mikhail Fishman and satirist Viktor Shenderovich. Both men appeared on separate tapes with the same woman, who had managed by 2010 to entrap at least six opposition figures in this way. Fishman appeared on the tape to be using cocaine while enjoying the company of the scantily-clad young woman, since then identified as Ekaterina Gerasimova.
Back in Azerbaijan, Lider TV (owned by a cousin of President Aliyev) aired a similar tape last year of two opposition activists engaged in compromising sexual behavior, coincidentally during Azerbaijan’s “Arab Spring” unrest.
And in late 2010, Lider broadcast video tape of opposition newspaper editor Azer Ahmedov having graphic sex with someone other than his wife. Incredibly, Lider hyped the tape and urged viewers to watch the uncensored segment, which they referred to as “The Naked Truth of the Opposition,” on its “Seda” news program.
In a bizarre bit of political analysis, the announcer ponderously told viewers that the video was a result of “asymmetric policy from the West,” adding that “we have to show this to the Western world, especially to France, so they know that their methods are very close to our opposition.”
Yes, I know that’s a bagful of non sequiturs, but it’s also a typical example of the multi-year slander campaign against opposition parties that has rendered them a mute and ineffective force.
And now it’s Khadija’s turn. Never mind that she has a right to privacy, and never mind that she has already had to endure a number of hurtful insults over the years from a variety of sources.
Robert Coalson reports for RFE/RL that “at least two newspapers in Azerbaijan” are in possession of the photos. Mr Coalson does not say how they obtained the photos, but added at press time that “no one has published them.”
Inshalla, no one will.

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