Khadija Ismayilova’s phone shows traces of Pegasus spyware infections during a three-year period between March 2018 and May 2021, according to a forensic analysis by Amnesty International’s Security Lab in partnership with Forbidden Stories. Her phone was compromised through an iMessage vulnerability documented across a number of devices around the world, including in Hungary and France.
The digital rights organization Citizen Lab also analyzed Ismayilova’s phone and confirmed the attack.
Who is she?
A senior investigative journalist at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Khadija Ismayilova has broken some of the biggest stories in Azerbaijan, revealing staggering scales of corruption in the oil-rich country where she grew up. But her reporting – on money laundering, nepotism and corruption – has come at a great personal cost.
In 2012, a hidden camera was installed in Ismayilova’s bedroom and videos of her and her boyfriend having sex were released to the public after the journalist posted on Twitter that she would refuse to submit to blackmail. In 2014, she joined OCCRP where she covered corruption in the Caucasus. Later that year, she was indicted on fraudulent tax evasion charges and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. After an international campaign to free her, she was released from prison in May 2016.
Despite the threats against her, Ismayilova continued to report on business interests in Azerbaijan and corruption by the President’s family. In 2017, she led an investigation into money laundering in Azerbaijan that uncovered how 2.5 billion Euros were laundered in UK-based shell companies between 2012 and 2014. She followed this story up with a 2018 investigation into Pilatus, a private bank used by Azeri elite (among them children of the President and Minister of Emergencies) to buy luxury properties in the Middle East and Europe.
After her release from prison in 2016, Ismayilova was banned from leaving Azerbaijan for five years. Her home in Baku became a new sort of prison, with a number of physical surveillance measures taken against her, she said in a recent interview. In May 2021, she boarded a flight for Turkey and is temporarily living in Ankara.
"Azerbaijani President's Daughters Tied To Fast-Rising Telecoms Firm" Radio Free Europe (2011)Read
"The Azerbaijani Laundromat" OCCRP (2017)Read
"Pilatus: A Private Bank for Azerbaijan’s Ruling Elite" OCCRP (2018)Read
Azerbaijani authorities did not respond to detailed questions sent by Forbidden Stories and its partners. NSO Group did not answer Forbidden Stories’ questions on specific targets but said it “will continue to investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action based on the results of these investigations.”