After being beaten up by a group of unknown men, journalist Rasim Aliyev succumbed to his injuries in hospital on 9 August 2015.
The ‘Sport for Rights’ coalition has issued a joint declaration condemning the brutal murder of the 30-year-old Azerbaijani journalist. Aliyev died in a Baku hospital on 9 August after being assaulted and severely beaten by a group of men. In the three weeks leading up to his death, the journalist had already reported receiving a constant stream of threats and intimidating messages over the telephone and the Internet. Although Aliyev had formally appealed to the police for protection, his request had been rejected.
The Azerbaijani authorities, who have launched an investigation into the attack, have so far apprehended one suspect. Officials are looking for a connection with a Facebook entry written on 3 August, in which Aliyev was disparaging of a local footballer. Aliyev had posted an article on the social media criticising the conduct of Javid Huseynov, captain of the Azerbaijani club Qabala FK.
But Aliyev had already received threatening messages before, after posting a series of photographs of police violence and social unrest – protesters carrying a banner that read ‘Resign’, for example. Although the journalist reported these threats and filed an official complaint, the police refrained from taking action.
Rasim Aliyev was a board member and employee of a prominent media organisation in Azerbaijan, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IFRS), and was elected the organisation’s Chairman in October 2014. He had been subject to threats and intimidation before precisely because of this involvement in IFRS. In 2013, the journalist was attacked by the Azerbaijani police, images of which were subsequently circulated online.
The attack on Aliyev took place exactly one year after IFRS was shut down by the Azerbaijani authorities and IFRS founder and Director Emin Huseynov was forced to seek shelter to guarantee his safety, on 8 August 2014. Since mid-2014, the authorities in Azerbaijan have put an end to all activities by independent non-governmental organisations, confiscated their property and put a large number of human rights critics and activists behind bars.
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the murder of Rasim Aliyev”, says Melody Patry, Index on Censorship’s senior advocacy officer. “The attack on Rasim takes place in a deteriorating environment for media professionals and civil society in Azerbaijan. Rasim was an independent journalist who kept working after his employer, IRFS, was closed down by the authorities. Organisations like IRFS actually exist to offer support to journalists like Rasim, especially at a time when threats, intimidation and violence against journalists are the order of the day in this country. We call on the authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Aliyev’s murder is the latest incident in a long list of violent attacks on journalists in Azerbaijan. Over the past decade, there have been hundreds of such incidents, including the murders of the Editor-in-Chief of Monitor magazine Elmar Huseynov in 2005 and of the writer and journalist Rafig Tagi in 2011. Both cases remain unsolved, as do most reported attacks against journalists in the country. The Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Novruzali Mammadov, Tolishi Sedo, died in 2009 while serving a 10-year prison sentence for a politically-motivated conviction.
The latest attack takes place amidst brutal human rights violations in the wake of the European Games and the run-up to Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections this November.
Over the past two years, a large number of journalists, human rights activists and other individuals who have criticised the Azerbaijani regime in some way, including Anar Mammadli, Leyla Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev, Seymur Hezi, Khadija Ismayilova, Ilgar Mammadov, Tofig Yagublu, Jadigar Sadigov, Hilal Mammadov and Arif Yunus, have been arrested and convicted on trumped-up charges.
Locked away and deprived of the necessary medical care, these individuals are slowly but surely wasting away in prison. They are subjected to torture and cruel, inhumane and humiliating abuse.
In recent weeks, another Azerbaijani journalist, Berlin-based Meydan TV Director Emin Milli, reported that he had received a serious threat, followed shortly after by threats to a number of his relatives. Four people working for Meydan TV were subsequently prevented from leaving Azerbaijan.
In an interview with our colleague Albana Shala, Programme Coordinator at Free Press Unlimited, Milli said that there was a clear link between Rasim’s activities as a journalist and the recent attack.
This view is shared by Boris van Westering, Head of the MENA region at Free Press Unlimited: “With the murder of the journalist Rasim Aliyev, Azerbaijan has reached a new low point when it comes to freedom of speech in the country. The Azerbaijani government actively contributes to a climate in which it is virtually impossible for independent journalists to do their job. Journalists are increasingly often targeted – they are physically assaulted, forced to flee the country or even worse – as in the case of Rasim Aliyev – murdered.”
Van Westering is concerned that Rasim Aliyev’s murder will spark off a new wave of violence against journalists in Azerbaijan in order to obstruct them in their work. He calls on the Dutch government to put pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities to bring those responsible for the murder of Rasim Aliyev to justice and to put an end to the on-going persecution of local journalists and activists.
“Further evidence of the on-going efforts of the Azerbaijani authorities to silence all forms of criticism and dissent can be found in the many violations taking place in the cases of human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus and journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who are currently standing trial on politically-motivated charges”, say FIDH Honorary President Souhayr Belhassen and OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. Belhassen and Staberock’s organisations work together within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. Despite the fact that the Yunuses both have serious and worsening health problems and should be immediately released on humanitarian, if not political grounds, the public prosecutor has demanded stunningly long prison sentences.
The ‘Sport for Rights’ coalition also calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation into Rasim Aliyev’s murder, and to bring the perpetrators – as well as the masterminds behind the crime – to justice. The cycle of violence against journalists in Azerbaijan needs to end, and those responsible must be prosecuted. Threats against journalists must be taken seriously, and the threatened journalists and their families should be able to count on adequate protection from the authorities.
The coalition also calls on the authorities to take concrete steps to improve the human rights situation in the country, including the immediate and unconditional release of all incarcerated journalists and human rights defenders.
Finally, ‘Sport for Rights’ calls on the international community to continue to monitor Azerbaijan now that media interest in the country in connection with the European Games has faded away. As Rasim Aliyev’s murder shows, critical voices in Azerbaijan are at greater risk than ever before. The international community must act now to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its human rights obligations and to encourage much-needed reforms in the country.
The joint declaration was signed by twelve supporting organisations:
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Human Rights House Foundation
Index on Censorship
International Media Support
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
PEN American Center
Polish Green Network
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
photo copyright IRFS