Ms. Ismayilova was released in 2016 after a year and a half in jail, where she had been unjustly incarcerated to silence her investigations of high-level corruption and cronyism. As we have noted before, she exposed hidden financial links in the telecommunications, construction, gold mining, hotel, media and airline services held by Mr. Aliyev and his family. More detail about the way Mr. Aliyev’s elite has plundered the country was revealed in September 2017 in “The Azerbaijani Laundromat,” an exposé by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which reported on a complex money-laundering operation and slush fund that handled $2.9 billion over a two-year period through four shell companies registered in the United Kingdom. The report showed that at least three European politicians, a journalist who wrote stories friendly to the regime and businessmen who praised the government were among the recipients of the money. Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani government threw more than 90 human rights activists, opposition politicians and journalists, including Ms. Ismayilova, into prison.
Ms. Ismayilova was released on five years’ probation, which included a travel ban. She said Feb. 6 that four of the five years have passed, and the laws allow a reprieve after half the time has elapsed. But the Azerbaijani Supreme Court, undoubtedly acting at Mr. Aliyev’s behest, denied her petition to lift the travel ban. She pointed out that former government officials sentenced for embezzlement were released from probation after only four months. The court decided, she said, that “my case is special.”
We think her case is special, too: a courageous journalist struggling to carry out the very essence of democratic ideals — holding the powerful to account — under a regime with no tolerance of free expression or rule of law. On Feb. 27, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ms. Ismayilova’s arrest was carried out for “improper reasons” and the actual purpose “was to silence and punish her for her journalistic activities.”
Mr. Aliyev’s model of autocratic rule was also on display in a parliamentary election Feb. 9 in which his ruling New Azerbaijan Party increased its seats in the 125-member rubber-stamp chamber. It was not free and fair. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that “the restrictive legislation and political environment prevented genuine competition,” and voters “were not provided with a meaningful choice due to a lack of real political discussion.” Also, “significant procedural violations” occurred during the vote count.