June 6, 2016: Prominent Activists Zainab Al-Khawaja & Khadija Ismayilova Set Free After International Pressure

Home / Blog / June 6, 2016: Prominent Activists Zainab Al-Khawaja & Khadija Ismayilova Set Free After International Pressure

The World Movement For Democracy (WMD) is pleased to be celebrating the release of an Azeri investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, and prominent Bahraini activist, Zainab Al-Khawaja. Ismayilova served as head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijan service and published extremely detailed accounts of rampant corruption by President Aliyev and his family, making her a target of harassment by the Azerbaijan government. Like Ismayilova, Al-Khawaja also spoke out against an oppressive government and was jailed for exercising freedom of expression while protesting. In December 2014, Al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years in prison for criticizing the police and tearing up a picture of King Hamad.
On May 25, 2016 the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan acquitted Ismayilova of embezzlement and abuse of power and ordered her release from prison, but upheld two other convictions for which Ismayilova received a three and a half year suspended sentence. Upon being freed, Ismayilova stated: “They didn’t succeed in silencing me,” and confirmed she will continue her investigative reporting. Al-Khawaja was released May 31, 2016 on humanitarian grounds because of her one-year old son, (who had been living in prisonwith her). However, the charges against Al-Khawaja remain, and she is still at risk of re-arrest, according to her sister.
Although Ismayilova and Al-Khawaja’s high profile releases are encouraging to the international community, oppressive governments continue to intimidate activists and many political prisoners remain behind bars. The Set Them Free campaign urges the release of opposition leader Seymur Azi (Haziyev), an Azerbaijani reporter and leading anchor for opposition satellite Azerbaijan Saati (Azerbaijani Hour); and Ilgar Mammadov, leader of the Republicans Alternative Movement, who are among many still imprisoned in Azerbaijan. In Bahrain Al-Khawaja’s father, a Director at the Gulf Centre For Human Rights, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, is still serving a life imprisonment sentence for protesting in the Bahraini uprising. Bahraini activists Abdujalil Al-Singace, a blogger imprisoned for criticizing the Bahrain government, and Sheikh Abdullah Isa Al-Mahroos, Vice President of the Al-Zahraa Society of Orphans, are still detained and charged with attempting to overthrow the government.