20 journalists from Europe, the United States, Turkey and Caucasus have launched The Khadija Project, a project intended to investigate the crimes of the family of Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev.
The Khadija Project is a response to the arrest of Azerbaijan journalist Khadija Ismayilova. In December 2014, she was put behind the bars for investigations of corruption business schemes of Aliyev’s family and friends.
“We are sure that Azerbaijan elite is responsible for charges fabricated against Khadija in an attempt to make the journalist keep silence. Until Khadija is discharged, we will be a Khadija multiplied by 100,” the project initiators state on its web-page.
The question of in what way the outbreak of the investigative journalists from all over the world threatens Aliyev’s regime (and whether it does threaten at all) was discussed with Arzu Geybullayeva, an independent journalist, the activist and coordinator of MYMEDIA program in the Southern Caucasus.
Over less than a month, more than 10 investigations continuing Ismayilova’s work were published. Most of the materials are devoted to Aliyev’s financial schemes relating to the company Telia Sonera and to leading more than one billion dollars out of Azerbaijan treasury to offshore. It took about half a year to prepare these investigations.
One of the most celebrated publications was the investigation on Aliyev’s property in London worth 25 million dollars. During a week, it gained a total of 1,400 Facebook likes and shares.
“It was a lucky time for publication: the European Games in Baku were in the spotlight as well as the amount of millions spent on it. The publication, in turn, reveals dictator’s property in London, Moscow, and Baku running into billions,” Arzu explains the reason of the material’s successю
“In the meantime, the investigations do not reveal anything fundamentally new: everybody is well-aware of the crimes of Aliyev’s family,” she says.
Azerbaijan’s power responded immediately: the representative of the president Aliyev called the investigations “black PR” against oil-bearing Caucasian nation.
“They thought that if they put Khadija behind the bars, the shadowing would be over. But it didn’t work, because Khadija was not alone, she was a part of the network of investigative journalists throughout the world,” Arzu explains today’s anxiety of the government.
According to Arzu, it is the first experience of that kind concerning international journalist cooperation and joint investigations against regime. Therefore, it is hard to predict what further response of Azerbaijan power will be like. Nevertheless, Arzu does not cherish any illusions.
Investigating journalists are not many in Azerbaijan itself. Most of investigations are conducted in the countries with developed democracy. There, Aliyev has less chance to get to the journalists out of favour.
“As yet, there were no serious threats to the journalists taking part in the project, except intimidation. Still, the authors of investigations are under risk to be arrested, beaten, and kidnapped.”
Project activity begins to go public in the international press. For example, Radio Liberty regularly produces brief summaries on the latest investigations of OCCRP within The Khadija Project. Azerbaijan resources have translated some of the materials into their language. “It is extremely important to deliver information not only to English-speaking and foreign audience, but also to the citizens of Azerbaijan themselves,” Arzu explains.
One of the investigations was even published by a Turkish newspaper, Hürriyet Daily News Later on, the author received a letter from the Embassy of Azerbaijan with a warning to be more careful as for the things he writes about Azerbaijan. Further, this letter was published by many Turkish newspapers, which has become an interesting precedent.
“The Embassy of Azerbaijan will not write to the editorial of The Guardian with complaints on what they are writing about Azerbaijan,” Arzu underlines. By her, there were such attempts earlier, but The Guardian takes such statements rather sharply and, of course, does not even think to follow them.
“In turn, the Turkish companies that are behind the press receive investments from Azerbaijan, and when the Embassy sends them a warning letter, it is an alarm signal for the companies’ managers. They will very likely stop rising the issues out of favour.”
Still, recently, there have been noticeable changes in the policies of the Turkish media concerning Azerbaijan events reporting. “Now, the amount of such articles has grown essentially. The materials are not exactly critical, but nevertheless… there are positive changes, after all,” Arzu comments.
The Khadija Project is supported by the united efforts of: the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Radio Liberty, Meydan TV, Bellingcat, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Global Investigative Journalism Network.
Apart from Khadija, there are more than 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. These are journalists, activists, and civil rights advocates, being out of favour of current power. Public organizations throughout the world are fighting for their discharge in different ways. For example, they use the European Games in Baku to attract the attention of the world to anti-European values advocated by the country’s power.