(BAKU - February 20, 2014) RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service journalist Khadija Ismayilova was questioned for the third consecutive day today by Azerbaijan's General Prosecutor's office, on allegations that she leaked state secrets to U.S. congressional aides visiting Baku. The U.S. Embassy and RFE/RL's President and CEO Kevin Klose have both labeled the accusations "absurd
," and U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) co-chair, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md) has termed the charges "clearly fabricated and punitive in nature
Ismayilova, an award-winning investigative journalist and host with the Azerbaijani Service, known locally as Radio Azadliq, reports that the questioning, which lasted for two hours today, focused "mainly on my dinner in Baku's Art-Garden restaurant with two visiting U.S. Senate staffers in late January. The prosecutor in charge of my case told me that they have information that I passed some kind of state secrets to visiting Americans. I told them it is impossible, since I don't have any state secrets in my possession. This is an absurd allegation. They asked me to come back again tomorrow."
Ismayilova was summoned for questioning on February 18
by the prosecutor's office after pro-government media outlets claimed that she had handed files on Azerbaijani opposition politicians and other prominent figures over to the aides, who were allegedly working as U.S. intelligence agents.
Ismayilova, who is known for her reporting on government corruption, has been targeted because of her journalistic work in the past. In early 2012, she was the target of a smear campaign in which an explicit video appeared on the Internet containing intimate and illegally obtained images of the journalist. The campaign intensified in August 2013 when a new video appeared on the Internet.