World Bulletin / News Desk
Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova faced August 7 in a packed courtroom in Baku, facing charges of embezzlement, tax evasion, and abuse of power which she claims are politically motivated punishment for her reporting, report RFE/RL.
Dozens of activists, journalists, and some members of the diplomatic corps -- eager to monitor the trial of a journalist who has reported extensively on official corruption in tightly controlled, oil-rich Azerbaijan -- were denied entry to the courtroom.
The trial comes eight months after the arrest of Ismayilova, with rights groups and Western governments urging her release from pretrial detention, calling the case part of a persistent campaign by long-ruling President Ilham Aliyev's government to silence dissent.
"Khadija Ismayilova spoke [before the court], and in her speech she said that she does not consider herself guilty of any charges,"said Fariz Namazli, defence lawyer, adding: "In general, none of these charges apply to her."
After the break, Ismayilova and her lawyers made a motion to replace the panel of judges. The judge chairing the trial announced a break, after which he adjourned the hearing until August 10 without ruling on the motion -- one that judges in the former Soviet Union very rarely satisfy.
Ismayilova, 39, has reported extensively on the financial dealings of President Ilham Aliyev -- who has tolerated little dissent and has constantly shrugged off Western criticism since he succeeded his father as president in 2003 -- and members of his family.
According to the report, representatives of The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. agency that oversees RFE/RL and Voice of America, have repeatedly contacted Azerbaijani officials to protest Ismayilova's incarceration.
RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic has called Ismayilova's detention "the latest attempt in a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan."