The mother of imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova has accepted the 2016 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize on her daughter’s behalf.
“Humanity suffers when journalists are silenced. Therefore, some people believe that the killing of journalists constitutes a crime against humanity,” Elmira Ismayilova told attendees at the ceremony in Helsinki, reading from a speech written by her daughter that included references to Elmar Huseynov, an independent Azerbaijani journalist and government critic who was shot dead in 2005.
“As you gather here tonight,” the elder Ismayilova relayed, “I ask you not to laud my work or my courage, but to dedicate yourself to the work each one of you can do on behalf of press freedom and justice.”
Khadija Ismayilova, a freelance journalist and frequent contributor to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, was arrested in December 2014. In September, she was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison on tax-evasion and embezzlement charges that have been widely denounced as retaliation for her reporting linking members of President Ilham Aliyev’s family to allegedly corrupt business practices.
“Today is her 516th day in prison,” CNN senior international correspondent and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Christiane Amanpour told a press conference in Helsinki before the award ceremony. “And here, from this stage, I’m personally calling on…the Azerbaijan government to free her.”
RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic welcomed the prize, calling it “powerful recognition of Khadija’s work and her undeniable right to freedom.”
The $25,000 prize is named to honor Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was killed outside his newspaper’s offices in Bogota on December 17, 1986. It was established in 1997 to honor a person or individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the defense of press freedom.
Past laureates include Russia’s Anna Politkovskaya in 2007, Iran’s Ahmad Zeidabadi in 2011, and Azerbaijan’s Eynulla Fatullayev in 2012.
The award presentation is held on May 3 to mark World Press Freedom Day.
The UNESCO prize is one of many international awards that Ismayilova, 39, has garnered both before and after her arrest. In 2012, she won the Courage in Journalism Award of the International Women’s Media Foundation.
On May 27, a group of nongovernmental organizations plans to hold support rallies in 40 different cities to mark Ismayilova’s 40th birthday.