AZERBAIJANI investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was presented with the 2017 Allard Prize for International Integrity at a ceremony at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver last week. Created and funded by Peter A. Allard, the C$100,000 biennial prize is one of the largest awards in the world recognizing efforts to combat corruption and promote human rights.
Ismayilova writes about high-level corruption and misuse of power in Azerbaijan for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Radio Free Europe’s Azerbaijani service.
“My hope is that one day we will have a strong enough society to demand justice in all corruption cases, including for those in the highest positions of the hierarchy,” Ismayilova said. “Writing and exposing corruption is not enough – we need to engage local and international legal mechanisms to make our exposures more meaningful. The Allard Prize will help me to continue this kind of work.”
In 2010, Ismayilova exposed hidden offshore assets held by Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev and his family. This included tens of millions of dollars in real estate holdings registered to Aliyev’s son, 2.5 billion dollars worth of gold and silver at Azerbaijan’s Chovdar mine, and various business interests in communications, banking, construction, and transportation. In 2013, Ismayilova received private video footage of herself in her home from an anonymous source, with a note warning her to behave. She was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison on charges that many saw as retaliation for her reports. In 2016, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan released Ismayilova on probation but forbade her to travel abroad for five years without official permission.
“We are honoured to present the 2017 Allard Prize to Khadija Ismayilova in recognition of her extraordinary efforts to combat corruption in Azerbaijan,” said Allard. “Demonstrating exemplary leadership and courage, she has made considerable personal sacrifices – and accepted risks to her own safety and that of her family and friends – to uphold transparency, accountability and the Rule of Law. Her dedication to exposing corruption is deeply aligned with the values of the Allard Prize.”
Currently Ismayilova is working on a project about the Azerbaijani Laundromat. The Azerbaijani Laundromat is a complex money-laundering operation and slush fund that handled $2.9 billion over a two-year period through four shell companies registered in the UK. This project is working to reveal where government money is being spent.
“Receiving the Allard Prize is a testament to the struggle journalists and activists in Azerbaijan carry out day by day to expose corruption,” Ismayilova said. “It is with great honor that I accept this award.”
In addition to announcing the winner, the Allard Prize honoured two finalists with C$10,000 honourable mention awards for their efforts in fighting corruption and protecting human rights. Those honourees are:
Azza Soliman: A renowned women’s rights lawyer, Azza Soliman is the co-founder of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA). She has dedicated her life to fighting corruption and injustice faced by Egyptian girls and women in both the private sphere and the judicial system, fighting for girls’ and womens’ rights to divorce, to equal child custody and to inherit equally to boys and men.
Car Wash Task Force (Força Tarefa da Lava Jato): A Brazilian anti-corruption prosecution task force working to prosecute some of the most powerful Brazilian economic and political elites. “Operation Car Wash” began as a local money laundering investigation and has grown into the largest probe to date uncovering cases of state capture and grand corruption in Brazil. The Task Force has recovered billions of dollars in bribes and is changing Brazil’s prior culture of impunity.
The Allard Prize for International Integrity was first awarded in 2013 to Anna Hazare for his work in leading successful movements across India to enhance government transparency and investigate and prosecute official corruption. The 2015 Allard Prize went to John Githongo and Rafael Marques de Morais, two African journalists who exposed corruption in their respective countries of Kenya and Angola.