Reporters Without Borders urges the Azerbaijani authorities to shed all possible light on freelance journalist Rasim Aliyev’s murder. Aliyev died in a Baku hospital yesterday from the injuries he received when he was lured into an ambush and beaten the day before.
He is the fourth journalist to be murdered in the past ten years. The investigations into the deaths of Elmar Huseynov and Alim Kazimli in 2005 and Rafiq Tagi in 2011 have yet to yield any credible results.
“Aliyev’s murder is the product of a culture of intolerance and impunity that the most senior officials have been fomenting for years,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“When government officials publicly identify outspoken journalists as enemies and as traitors, when physical attacks on journalists consistently go unpunished, we cannot be surprised that tragedies like this occur.”
After being badly beaten in Baku on the afternoon 8 August, Aliyev was hospitalized with broken ribs and loss of hearing in the left ear. Before dying of internal bleeding the next day, he said he had been the target of an ambush organized by a person identifying himself as Azerbaijani football star Javid Huseynov’s cousin.
Aliyev had criticized Huseynov on Facebook on 6 August for responding with an insulting gesture to a Cypriot journalist who asked him why he had displayed a Turkish flag on the pitch.
Two days later, a man who identified himself as Huseynov’s cousin telephoned Aliyev and began to insult and threaten him. But, when he called Aliyev a second time, he was conciliatory and invited him to come and have a tea with him. Huseynov himself had meanwhile called Aliyev and had a normal conversation with him.
When Aliyev arrived at the rendez-vous with the self-described cousin, five or six individuals immediately began beating him. They also stole his wallet and mobile phone.
Gabala, the club Huseynov plays for, is run by Taleh Heydarov, the son of Azerbaijan’s minister for emergency situations. It announced yesterday that it was suspending Huseynov until these events were clarified.
After calling on the media to stick to the official version and not “politicize” the case, the authorities announced that they were investigating a case of “deliberate and aggravated assault resulting in death” (article 126.3 of the criminal code). The Azerbaijani media have reported that at least three suspect’s have been arrested include a cousin of Huseynov.
A video and photo reporter covering political and social issues for various Azerbaijani news websites, Aliyev was a member of the executive bureau of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), a media defence NGO that was a Reporters Without Borders partner. It was forcibly closed in August 2014.
When the head of the IRFS, Emin Huseynov, had to go into hiding to avoid arrest, it was Aliyev who was elected to replace him in October.
Aliyev had been the target of several threats and attacks in recent years. According to Meydan TV, an independent TV station, he asked his Facebook contacts on 25 July: “Dear Friends, Do you know where I should submit a complaint if I receive threats and if I am intimidated on social networks?”
Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to consider all possibilities and not to limit themselves to prosecuting the murder’s perpetrators. Ali Hasanov, the head of the president’s office, who often threatens independent media openly, said today that the president regarded media freedom as “one of the state’s priorities.”
“This new democratic proclamation would be good for a laugh if the subject were not so grave. If the president wants to be taken seriously, he should end the unprecedented crackdown on the media and civil society that has been going on for more than a year.”
In Azerbaijan, ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, almost all independent media outlets have been reduced to silence and media freedom NGOs have been closed.
Eight journalists and four bloggers are currently detained because of what they were reporting. They include well-known investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, whose trial continued today. Dozens of independent journalists and critical bloggers have been forced to flee abroad in recent months.