The PEN American Center, the US branch of the worldwide association of writers, has honoured imprisoned investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova with the prestiguous PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award next month.
Ismayilova is one of the best-known investigative journalists in Azerbaijan, with a track record in exposing high-level corruption and human rights abuses that have made her a major target for the government there. She has been imprisoned since December 2014, after a campaign of official harrassment that raised awareness of the Azerbaijani government’s repression of journalists worldwide.
Formally in a form of pretrial detention, which has now been extended twice, Ismayilova was initially arrested on spurious allegations of inciting a colleague to commit suicide. She was previously blackmailed with surreptitious recordings of her private life. Khadija Ismayilova’s letters from prison are a powerful testament of a determination to tell the truth, which will not be silenced:
“Why am I here?” is a question that everyone in prison asks themselves, no matter the crime. Corruption is the reason I am in my prison, but the regime’s corruption, not mine. The only way to prove oppressive regimes wrong is to continue exposing corruption, and I have promised more investigations for 2015. Yes, there is a price to pay, but it is worth it! My arrest proves one more time that we must build a new reality where telling the truth will not require courage.
While Khadija Ismayilova was not be able to attend the Pen America awards in person – the award was accepted on her behalf by Neil Gaiman – as the New York Times points out, of the 39 previous winners who were incarcerated at the time they received the Freedom to Write award, 34 are now free.