Saturday, January 23

Azerbaijan continues to embarrass itself, and it is no longer funny

Few days ago, I received news that renowned British human rights lawyer Amal Clooney will represent the case of Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan’s unlawfully jailed top investigative reporter at the European Court of Human Rights. Clooney together with Nani Jansen from the Media Legal Defense Initiative will act as Co-Council for Khadija and challenge the government of Azerbaijan on the grounds that Ismayilova’s extended pre-trial imprisonment violates the European convention. 

I was thrilled by the news. But I also knew that very soon pro government mouthpieces in Azerbaijan would start labeling Clooney and Jansen “Armenians” trying to damage the country’s international image as a country of tolerance, justice and thriving democracy. I also feared this would have an impact on my friend’s case. 

It didn’t take long before the theatrics unfolded. Trend.az, one of many puppet media outlets in Azerbaijan said, “A. Clooney is of Armenian dissent and represented Armenia before Swiss, Armenian, French and European Court of Human Rights on ‘Armenian genocide’. All the while “forgetting” to mention that Amal Ramzi Alamuddin was born in Beirut and that she moved to London together with her family during the civil war in Lebanon. 

Some of Amal Clooney’s high profile cases include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy- one of three Al-Jazeera journalists detained in Egypt and sentenced to 7 years. 

But the story on Trend.az does not mention any of that, nor did Azernews.az or many other outlets. “So, deeply committed to anti-Turkic ideals Amal Clooney now has taken to Azerbaijan, first to prove her loyalty to Armenian lobbyists and second, to undersign another big case without caring who wins”, bashed the article on Azernews. 

Refraining from bashing but sticking to Clooney’s work on the case of Armenia was also brought up in another local paper 525.az. 

This kind of slander is not uncommon in Azerbaijan. Often critics of the government get labeled various kinds of names and affiliations ranging from being Western agents to spies and last but not least traitors. Everyone who is critical of the government at home or abroad is an Armenian. In my recent piece for Open Democracy I tried illustrating how desperate the authorities in Azerbaijan are to cling to this na├»ve if not ridiculous accusation each time the country’s deteriorated democracy, human rights or freedom of expression record is spotted and criticized. 

So why continue sticking to this nonsense and endure embarrassment even further? This is merely a sign of weakness and inability to state facts indicating fragility not only of the whole system on which the government of Azerbaijan operates but also how biased if not completely feeble its apologists, media and advocates are. 

In the meantime, the European Court decided to prioritize two more of Khadija’s cases- the violation of privacy [secret camera footage] and the failure of the authorities to properly investigate and prosecute- according to Media Defense Initiative. 

Khadija also confirmed that prominent human rights lawyer will represent her case at the ECHR. Speaking to her lawyer Fariz Namazli Khadija said she agreed to Clooney’s offer because of her “courage” while defending Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy in 2014. 

Khadija Ismayilova was detained on December 5, 2014. Her original charge was her involvement in allegedly pushing a man to attempt suicide. But absurdity of these charges was so clear that even the authorities knew they could not keep Ismayilova in jail for long on this bogus accusation. After extending Ismayilova’s detention by additional two months, she was charged with a series of new “economic charges” ranging from tax evasion, to abuse of power and illegal entrepreneurship. In September 2015 Ismayilova was sentenced to 7.5 years in jail. 

But there was no attempt to suicide, nor were there any economic violations, these charges were the byproduct of the wild imagination of Azerbaijani officials afraid of Khadija’s work exposing government corruption in this small oil rich country. 

Perhaps, it is not surprising then that it is this wild imagination that keeps the country’s officials detached from the reality, stuck in a world of conspiracy theories and made up enemies all the while sticking to what they know and do best- humiliate, intimidate and silence.

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