Khadija Ismajilowa

Statement Khadija Ismajilowa

I’m an Azerbaijani investigative journalist and former radio host, currently working for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. My work mostly focuses on corruption by state and business officials. In 2015, I was sentenced to seven and half years in prison, but in 2016 the Azerbaijani supreme court fortunately ordered my release on probation.

Surveillance concerns me both in my home country and done by foreign countries – also such as Germany. In Azerbaijan, anti terrorism laws are formulated quiet vaguely and used against independent journalists. It’s highly possible that I’m a target of Azerbaijans intelligence agencies that also share their data with foreign agencies. Any foreign country conducting intelligence in Azerbaijan has to cooperate with the Azerbaijani government agencies. There are no guarantees that either Azerbaijani or German agencies conducting surveillance will not be abused for „legitimate purposes“ and intrude to my privacy for political or personal reasons.

I have already been a victim of government surveillance. In 2012 I was blackmailed with the intimate video filmed with secret cameras in my bedroom. When we investigated the video footage and examined the apartment, we found out that the cameras were linked through cables to the state owned telephone company’s switchboard serving the whole apartment building. From there it was connected to the Automated Telephone Station – owned by the state, which according to the anti-terrorism legislation provided full access to the Ministry of National Security. This crime has never been properly investigated and my application is now considered by the European Court of Human Rights.

That’s why I support the constitutional complaint against the new BND law. Due to this law, I’m a legitimate target of the agency and my communication could be shared in global networks. It’s exactly what investigative journalists fear the most. We need to be sure that our communication is safe.

Thanks to my work, I’m popular in my home country and around the world. For example, I’m a member of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and was awarded with the Right Livelihood Award in 2017. This popularity has positive and negative effects. There are powerful people in Azerbaijan who are able to use their government position for taking revenge for the stories I write. But there are also people who are willing to report about corruption. These whistleblowers need to be sure that their identity will not be compromised. I am currently under travel ban and cannot leave the country. However, my work involves cross-border investigations and cross-border communication. How can we be sure about the safety of our whistleblowers? Sometimes I receive information from people who live outside the country, but do not hold a citizenship of the country they live in – for example, Germany.
My sources are essential for my work although they are of course concerned about their safety if they reveal information to me. That’s why it’s so important to have the right of private conversations for journalists. Surveillance of media threats what they need the most for independent journalism: trust.