You’re gonna be hearing a lot more than usual ’bout Azerbaijan in the coming days, since the nation will be playing host to that wretched entertainment ritual known as Eurovision 2012. The event is supposed to be a coming-out party of sorts for the so-called Land of Fire, which would very much like to attract more Western investment. But those who might contemplate plunging their cash into Azerbaijan should be aware that the Soviet ways die hard in the country. Just ask Khadija Ismayilova, a journalist who is facing a most odious sort of persecution for investigating government corruption:
On March 7, Ismayilova received a letter with the words “behave, whore, or you will be shamed,” along with an envelope of photos taken inside her house of her engaged in sexual activity. The same letter was also sent to two opposition-leaning newspapers, which did not publish the pictures.
On March 14, after Ismayilova stated said in public that she would ignore the threats, video footage – again clearly filmed with a spy camera – inside her home, was posted on a website ostensibly linked to Musavat, an opposition party which has a newspaper of the same name. Both denied any connection to the website, but many internet users were clearly misled into believing they were responsible for carrying the video, judging by the angry comments they posted.
Ismayilova believes the underhand campaign against her is a consequence of her investigations into high-level corruption in Azerbaijan. Her recent report into the business activities of President Ilham Aliyev’s daughters, published by RFE/RL, was one of the very rare Azeri-language articles to discuss the first family.
Ismayilova quickly entered my pantheon of heroes for refusing to be cowed by the stealth footage of her bedroom activities—footage that was obviously taken by President Aliyev’s security apparatus. The whole scheme actually has a Keystone Kops element to it, for the blackmailing backfired in spectacular fashion—Ismayilova is now so high-profile that she cannot be disappeared without causing massive backlash against Aliyev’s regime. I hope Ismayilova will take advantage of that fact and now press forward with her reporting with renewed vigor.
I am curious to know what the dictator’s wife thinks of all this. Perhaps she should have been asked in this laughably softball interview, in which she was allowed to parry accusations that the government was demolishing homes to make way for Eurovision-related structures. Gotta love the obsequiousness of the interviewer: “I have to ask the following question…” As if it pains him to do his job.