Khadija Ismayililova wins ’Alternative Nobel Prize’

By Jane Whyatt

From a prison cell in Azerbaijan to a multi-award-winning journalist, Ms Ismayilova has come a long way. The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter was jailed for seven and a half years after using the Panama Papers leaks to identify corrupt practices in her country’s government. The investigation became known as the 'Azerbijani Laundromat' since it details a complicated money laundering scheme.

Khadija Ismayililova Khadija Ismayililova (picture: Aziz Karimov, Khadija Ismayilova, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ismayilova was accused in unrelated cases of inciting a suicide attempt, of various tax and fraud offences and of criminal libel. During their efforts to create a case against her, the secret police hid a camera in her bedroom and filmed her together with her boyfriend. Then they attempted to silence her by showing the footage to her family. She was acquitted of the “inciting suicide“ charges but given a heavy sentence on the other counts.

As Khadija was led away to the cells, she defiantly remarked that her jail term would give her the chance to investigate corruption within the prison system. While she was behind bars, her colleagues at Radio Liberty and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project continued to investigate all the leads that she was pursuing.

Khadija Ismayilova Awards to date:

Right Livelihood Award 2017, (Stockholm, Sweden)

UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2016 (Helsinki, Finland)

Holme of the Year 2015 (Stockholm, Sweden)

PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award 2015 (New York, USA) 

Global Shining Light Award 2013 (Rio De Janeiro, Brazil)

Courage of Journalism Award 2012 (Washington DC, USA)

Free Press of Eastern Europe Award 2012 (Hamburg, Germany)

Her appeal took place on May 25, 2016. The court ordered Ismayilova’s release and suspended her sentence: She was acquitted of misappropriation and abuse of power, but the court upheld the charges of illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion, for which she is serving probation of 3 years and 6 months.

Still she was set free after 583 days, after she won the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2016. And now her success has been crowned with Sweden’s Alternative Nobel Prize, the “Right Livelihood Award 2017“

It is an honour for me to receive such a prestigious prize. I accept this distinction in the name of all journalists and human rights defenders in my country, who continue to work tirelessly in spite of  the most difficult conditions",

said Ismayilova.

The Alternative Nobel Prize was invented by Jacob von Uexkell, an environmental campaigner with Swedish-German nationality who lives and works in London.

Khadija Ismayilova has already been awarded a number of international prizes.

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