Azerbaijan: Court ruling on journalist’s ‘sex-smear’ human rights complaint

Human rights judges ruled today that Azerbaijani authorities failed to investigate the “serious invasion” of journalist Khadija Ismayilova’s privacy.

In today’s Chamber judgment  in the case of Khadija Ismayilova v. Azerbaijan (application no. 65286/13) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

two violations of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and

a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention.

As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Azerbaijan was to pay Ismayilova 15,000 euros (EUR) in respect of nonpecuniary damage and EUR 1,750 in respect of costs and expenses.

The case concerned an alleged smear campaign against a well-known journalist, Khadija Rovshan qizi Ismayilova.

In particular, she was sent a letter threatening her with public humiliation if she did not stop her investigative reporting. When she refused, a “sex video” filmed without her knowledge of her and her then boyfriend was posted on the Internet.

Around the same time, newspapers ran stories accusing her of anti-government bias and immoral behaviour. She later discovered hidden cameras all over her flat.

The court found that such acts had been an affront to Ms Ismayilova’s human dignity which the state had had a duty to investigate.

However, there had been significant flaws and delays in the investigation, even though there had been obvious leads. For example, no formal statement had been taken from a telephone engineer with state-owned Baktelekom, who had admitted that he had been instructed to install a second telephone line in Ismayilova’s flat and to trace wires to it.

Most importantly, no line of inquiry had been developed to see if there had been a link between Ismayilova’s being a well-known investigative journalist highly critical of the government and the criminal acts against her.

That situation had been compounded by the articles published in allegedly pro-government newspapers and by the authorities’ public disclosure of a report on the status of the investigation which had, for no apparent reason, included information on  Ismayilova’s private life.

The court took particular note of reports of journalists in Azerbaijan being persecuted and the perceived climate of impunity for such acts.

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