Why we rallied for Khadija’s freedom

Today, we rallied at the United Nations headquarters in New York to protest the jailing of journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

Khadija is a courageous journalist who was arrested for investigating a corruption scandal involving the powerful ruling family in Azerbaijan. She is also a friend of Access Now who has tirelessly defended human rights online.

The great news is that the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan just reduced her sentence to three and half years from seven and a half years. She was released on Wednesday on a suspended sentence after spending 537 days in jail.

But the bad news is that Khadija has not had her sentence expunged — despite the spurious charges. She can’t travel outside the country and she is effectively on parole, meaning Azerbaijani authorities could send her right back to jail for even minor offenses. Yet she should never have spent a single day in prison in the first place. Worse, we also learned that two activists were arrested on the same day as her release and there are still more than 70 political prisoners in Azerbaijan — showing that the cycle is poised to continue.

Enough is enough. We’re calling on the government of Azerbaijan to expunge Khadija’s sentence — and to release the numerous other journalists and activists who remain in prison for exercising their human rights to freedom of expression and to freedom of assembly. And that’s why we participated today in a rally at the U.N. with our friends at PEN American Center — one of 40 protests in 40 cities worldwide in honor of Khadija’s 40th birthday.

We’re excited that so many people came out today, all around the world, to honor Khadija and fight for a free press. You can watch this great video of Khadija showing her appreciation and calling for more support for human rights. We hope you join us in our call for journalists like Khadija to be released, in Azerbaijan and everywhere else people are wrongly imprisoned for exercising the right to free expression.