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Khadija Ismayilova receives PEN America Freedom to Write Award

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.