Intimate video emerges, again, of reporter investigating Azerbaijan president’s family

August 7, 2013

Azeri reporter Khadija Ismayilova speaks at the 2012 Courage in Journalism Awards hosted by the International Women's Media Foundation, which honored her for resisting anonymous threats to stop investigating the president of Azerbaijan's family. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images)

Khadija Ismayilova is known as one of the only investigative reporters — if not the only investigative reporter — in Azerbaijan, an energy-rich former Soviet state that Freedom House defines as "not free." That has proven risky. For the second time in the year and a half since she began investigating possible corruption in the family of President Ilham Aliyev, a video recording of the female journalist at home with her boyfriend has surfaced online. The officially unexplained emergence is widely considered by rights groups are likely part of an intimidation campaign, common against journalists in Azerbaijan.

In March 2012, when Ismayilova began looking into questionable business investments by Aliyev family members, she received a letter that read only "Whore, behave. Or you will be defamed." The letter also included intimate photos of her, apparently taken from inside her home. A week later, a video of Ismayilova at home with her boyfriend mysteriously surfaced on pro-government Web sites and state media outlets.

She kept working, though, and in April of this year a fabricated video of her surfaced online – her employer, Radio Free Europe, will only say that it was "obscene," and English-language outlets generally decline to elaborate. She told Colors Magazine in an interview that month that she would keep looking into the story. "My management asked me to move to Prague after the blackmail, but I refused," she said. "That’s what the government in Azerbaijan wants. I’m not bound to this place, but I know that I am needed here."

Now, a second video of Ismayilova with her boyfriend, also taken inside her home, has mysteriously emerged on Azerbaijan's pro-government Web site. State media stories accompanying the video also allegedly included falsified quotes from a fellow Radio Free Europe reporter. Over the weekend, a group of journalists, most of them female, gathered in the capital of Baku to protest the videos' release. Some carried signs reading "My home, my bed are not corruption." More than a dozen were arrested.

Aliyev, who has been president since 2003, is running for reelection; the vote is scheduled for Oct. 9. He won reelection most recently in 2008 with 87 percent of the vote. Leading opposition parties had dropped out of the race, citing concerns of vote fraud and media intimidation; European election monitors expressed concern that the election did not reflect democratic principles.

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Max Fisher | August 6, 2013