Washington DC—Crude Accountability is deeply concerned about the smear campaign and illegal surveillance of Sevinj Osmanqizi, an independent opposition journalist from Azerbaijan now living in exile in the United States. We call on the United States government and other western governments, as well as international financial institutions, to address this act of retaliation with the government of Azerbaijan.
On April 7th the government-backed Azerbaijani channel Real-TV broadcasted an illegally-tapped private conversation between Sevinj Osmanqizi, who lives in the United States, and another independent journalist living in exile in Germany, Chingiz Sultansoy. Sevinj Osmanqizi confirmed the authenticity of the conversation. The smear campaign portrayed Osmanqizi as a traitor and a liar.
On April 21st Sevinj Osmanqizi received an ultimatum to stop her journalism work (independent Facebook-based news shows) within a week or her intimate pictures and private information would be exposed. Osmanqizi made a statement that such mafia-style blackmail would not stop her from doing her work.
The perpetrators are trying to influence her by threatening her former students, who now work as journalists in Azerbaijan. On April 28th pro-government news source Real-TV fabricated and published emails that allege that the student and Osmanqizi – journalism school instructor at the US-Azerbaijan Journalism Academy the time – plotted against the government and were working in favor of western countries and sponsors. Fabricating such emails threatens the wellbeing on the journalists inside the country.
Right before the smear campaign started, Osmanqizi ran a series of programs centered around corruption in the oil and gas sector of Azerbaijan. In the programs, Osmanqizi gave a platform to experts and economists to share critical views of the current financial situation and overwhelming corruption. Shortly after running the series, Osmanqizi became a target of the smear campaign. Given the timing, the orders for pressuring her are likely to have come from the highest levels of government.
Blackmail, illegal tapping, exposing private information on government-backed channels have become routine practices of stifling opposition voices in Azerbaijan. Supported by International Financial Institutions and Western governments, it appears that President Aliyev’s regime is willing to break the laws of foreign countries and harass dissidents living abroad, therefore destroying the last remnants of independent voices.
Rich in oil and natural gas, Azerbaijan is the starting place for the Southern Gas Corridor, a series of mega pipelines being developed to sell Azerbaijan’s natural gas to Western Europe. While the exploration of Shah Deniz is financially backed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank, virtually every large international financial institution (IFIs), including the Work Bank, EIB, EBRD, ADB and AIIB have committed support to the Southern Gas Corridor. With western political and financial backing in exchange for gas, President Aliyev apparently continues to escalate his crackdown on independent civil society and opposition.
Ignoring this grave retaliation against Ms. Osmanqizi will send a strong signal to perpetrators that their methods of harassment of opposition will be condoned. Protecting Sevinj Osmanqizi is critical for both international and Azerbaijani civil society, as harassment and retaliation are spilling across borders. Crude Accountability calls upon the US government, the EU and the international financial institutions immediately address this horrible case of retaliation with the Aliyev government, and work to ensure that retaliation against independent Azerbaijani civil society and journalists ceases.
Elena Sorokina, Communications Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
Sonia Zilberman, South Caspian Energy and Environment Manager email@example.com