February 9, 2016
Fresh from defending Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt, the international human rights lawyer announced that she is taking on the case of jailed journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Ismayilova has been in prison for over a year on what she claims are trumped-up charges.
Essentially a mouthpiece for the government, the Azerbaijani media responded to the news of Clooney’s latest job with fury. Attacks by agencies AzerNews and Haqqin.az ran the gauntlet from mysogynist to xenophobic – accusing Clooney both of harbouring anti-Turkic sentiment (in 2015 Clooney lost a case against a Turkish politician about Amenian-genocide denial) and of trying to achieve the same heights of fame as her husband (George Clooney). One article wrote simply, ‘We would like to note that Amal Clooney is an ethnic Armenian’ (Clooney is Lebanese-British).
The source of this vitriol is more likely to be the concern that, once again, Azerbaijan’s human rights record will be under the international spotlight. Although the government enjoys the perks of being European — hosting theEuropean Games and competing in the European Song Content – it does not want the burdens of democracy, civil rights or the European Court of Human Rights. Clooney’s fame and reputation mean that wherever she steps, the media follows – and in this case, her attention violates what seems to be a founding principle for post-Soviet nations – the right to harangue and persecute critics without recourse.