A smear campaign by posting an explecit video against a journalist has led to a violations of the Convention

The European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been two violations of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention in the case of Khadija Ismayilova v. Azerbaijan (application no. 65286/13, 10/01/2019).

The case concerned an alleged smear campaign against a well-known journalist, Khadija Rovshan qizi Ismayilova. In particular, she was sent a letter threatening her with public humiliation if she did not stop her investigative reporting. When she refused, a “sex video” filmed without her knowledge of her and her then boyfriend was posted on the Internet.

The prosecuting authorities launched criminal proceedings over the threatening letter and the covert filming. The applicant complained about the alleged ineffectiveness of the investigation and in response to Ms Ismayilova’s public complaints the prosecuting authorities published a status report noting that they had questioned a number of witnesses, including Ms Ismayilova’s boyfriend, friends, colleagues and members of her family.

The applicant lodged the application relaying on Article 8 that the State had either been directly responsible for the very serious intrusions into her private life , or, in any event, had not complied with its duty to take measures to protect her privacy rights and that status report had disclosed an excessive amount of sensitive personal information collected during the course of the investigation. Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), she argued that the State had either been directly involved in or had failed to take steps to prevent the systematic smear campaign against her.

The Court found that acts had been an affront to Ms Ismayilova’s human dignity which the State had had a duty to investigate. However, there had been significant flaws and delays in the investigation, even though there had been obvious leads. Most importantly, no line of inquiry had been developed to see if there had been a link between Ms Ismayilova’s being a well-known investigative journalist highly critical of the Government and the criminal acts against her.

That situation had been compounded by the articles published in allegedly pro-government newspapers and by the authorities’ public disclosure of a report on the status of the investigation which had, for no apparent reason, included information on Ms Ismayilova’s private life. The Court took particular note of reports of journalists in Azerbaijan being persecuted and the perceived climate of impunity for such acts.

Ms Ismayilova has another application (no. 30778/15) with the European Court concerning her arrest and detention in 2014 for large-scale misappropriation and tax evasion as well as abuse of power when working for Azadliq Radio.

References from the official website of the European Court of Human Rigts