Last week, Azerbaijan sentenced Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and anti-corruption campaigner, to seven-and-a-half years in prison for illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion. Her conviction comes three weeks after prominent human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus were sentenced to eight-and-a-half and seven years, respectively, for fraud, tax evasion and treason.
The United Nations, the European Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others, have all condemned the arrest, trial and sentencing of these and other human rights advocates and anti-corruption campaigners in Azerbaijan. The U.S. State Department released a statement saying it “is deeply troubled” by Ismayilova’s conviction and that the “case is another example in a broad pattern of increasing restrictions on human rights in Azerbaijan.”
The crackdown on human rights activists in Azerbaijan began in 2013, when President Ilham Aliyev was elected to a third term in office, after a successful referendum in 2009 to amend the constitution to lift the two-term presidential limit. “This was a sign that Azerbaijan was no longer going to be a pretend democracy,” explains Thomas de Waal, a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.