Monday, September 7, 2015

Azerbaijan jails journalist who exposed president's family links to gold mine ownership

A court in Azerbaijan sentenced, Khadija Ismayilova, a journalist to 7.5 years in prison for tax evasion and embezzlement (see reports by the Guardian, incl. response of motherFT, and Radio Free Europe).

Working for Radio Free Europe, she has exposed the links of the family of the President Aliyev to profitable Azerbaijan businesses, including a Gold mine [] in the west and mobile phone operator.

However, the gold mine is not the 'big thing' in Azerbaijan (the mine reportedly contains US$2.5B worth of minerals), oil and gas is. Although there is strong interest in this story from western governments, including the US [], and international organisations, Azerbaijan position in the supply of natural gas from the Caspian sea to the same countries, makes a criticism muted. BP has largest stake in the gas project Shah Deniz in Azeri Caspian Sea, next to Socar, the national oil and gas company, followed with smaller stakes of others. Norway's Statoil and France' Total recently sold [, see also FT] their stakes in the project.

Some human rights organisations now press governments to consider sanctions [] on Azerbaijan for its crackdown on and jailing of human rights activists and journalists. As the article in Eurasianet indicates, the potential for sanctions has recently increased as the geopolitical position of and western corporate interests in Azerbaijan have diminished.

The situation that would make potential action against the Azeri government possible, may simultaneously also be the reason why the government is behaving as it does. Weakened links with western countries may make it feel more independent. At the same time, de decline of energy prices makes there less of the spoils to around, which may explain the resulting tendency of the more autocratic leaning governments to start using the stick to stay on top. This was also something that came up during our visit to Baku in February.

Ms. Ismayilova thought it funny she was jailed for things that she accuses the government and presidential family of. She wrote in her closing statement [] to the court that she would continue exposing government abuse from prison.

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