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On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the pervasive climate of impunity for offences against journalists and media workers in Azerbaijan.
“Over the past decade, not a single murder case involving a journalist has been fairly investigated in Azerbaijan. As long as the government facilitates this impunity, journalists’ lives and freedom of expression will remain under threat”, said IRFS Director Emin Huseynov.
The death of IRFS’ former chairman and journalist Rasim Aliyev on 9 August 2015 is the latest and most egregious example of violence against journalists in Azerbaijan. Rasim died in a Baku hospital the day after he was severely beaten by a group of people.
The research produced by the civil society group established to investigate the journalist’s death provides strong grounds to conclude that the murder was politically motivated.
During his meeting with European Parliament delegation in September, President Ilham Aliyev vehemently opposed suggestion that Rasim Aliyev’s murder was politically motivated, referring to his death as an “accident”.
“This is a direct accusation of me of committing a crime. I can sue those who wrote this”, declared President Aliyev following the 2015 resolution by the European Parliament.
“Unfortunately, journalist Rasim Aliyev, who wrote about sports news, died in a tragic accident. […] It has nothing to do with us. He never criticised us and no one even knew him. This is deliberate manipulation and an accusation that I have been involved with this”.
In fact, as an outspoken reporter who frequently exposed human rights violations in his video reports, Rasim Aliyev was well-known within the Azerbaijani civil society and media community, and his death was a terrible blow to his colleagues and peers.
IRFS reminds President Aliyev and his aides that prior to his death, Rasim Aliyev had received threatening messages connected to a series of photos he posted online showing police brutality and social discontent – for instance, one of protesters carrying a banner calling on President Aliyev and his government to resign. Rasim Aliyev reported receiving a threatening message stating, “You will be punished for these photos”. He publicised the threat on 25 July 2015, and filed a complaint with the police, who took no action to protect him.
Shortly after the President stated that the murder had “nothing to do” with his government, Gabala FC striker Javid Huseynov, who was sentenced to four years in prison in connection with Rasim Aliyev’s death, was released having served only a fraction of his sentence. Huseynov was immediately and unconditionally welcomed back onto his football team.
“The judicial system is completely broken when involvement in murder carries a one-year sentence, while painting a graffiti on a statue leads to 10 years in prison, as we have just seen in Giyas Ibrahimov’s case”, noted IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov.
IRFS reminds that since President Aliyev first took his office in 2003, five journalists – Elmar Huseynov, Alim Kazimli, Novruzali Mammadov, Rafig Tagi and Rasim Aliyev – have been murdered in Azerbaijan. None of those cases has been subject to full and fair investigation, and most perpetrators were never apprehended.
Writer and journalist Rafig Tagi faced recurrent threats throughout his career. On 19 November 2011 he was stabbed by an unidentified individual on his way home. Despite surviving surgery, the journalist passed away in City Clinical Hospital No.1 four days later. This case bears close resemblance to the murder of Rasim Aliyev in that both journalists survived their attacks – which were preceded by numerous threats – only to perish at the hands of their doctors. The criminal proceedings on Rafig Tagi’s case were discontinued after the police were unable to identify the individuals responsible for his murder.
Talishi Sado newspaper Editor-in-Chief and head of the Talish Cultural Centre Novruzali Mammadov died in prison in August 2009 while serving his 10-year sentence on trumped-up charges of treason and incitement of hatred. The state failed to provide him with the necessary medical assistance in prison.
Elmar Huseynov, Editor-in-Chief of Monitor magazine, was shot dead in front of his apartment in March 2005. A vocal critic of the Azerbaijani government and President Ilham Aliyev in particular, Elmar Huseynov had received repeated death threats prior to his murder. Eleven years after his brutal killing, the perpetrators of the crime have not been apprehended.
Yeni Musavat newspaper photo reporter Alim Kazimli was severely beaten at Narimanov District Police Department on 28 December 2004 while getting his passport. The journalist died of a brain haemorrhage on 19 June 2005 as a result of the assault. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reprimanded head of passport office Abil Mammadov for the failure to create proper conditions for the reception of citizens and the discourteous behaviour towards Alim Kazimli. This crime, however, was never investigated.
“Journalists play a pivotal role in promoting democracy and advancing human rights. The deliberate failure to ensure their safety, and the unwillingness to hold perpetrators accountable constitutes a gross violation of international and domestic standards. President Aliyev is directly responsible for the climate of impunity that has flourished during his twelve years of presidency”, said Emin Huseynov.
Furthermore, hundreds of journalists have been subject to violence and blackmail for their legitimate professional activities in the period from 2005 to 2016. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, law enforcement agencies failed to thoroughly investigate such incidents.
Indeed, the authorities themselves are responsible for committing crimes against journalists, who continue to be arrested on fabricated charges for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Currently there are six journalists, five bloggers and two poets behind bars for criticising the government.
On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, IRFS calls on the government of Azerbaijan to:
• End the climate of impunity by ensuring fair and thorough investigations into crimes committed against journalists, and to apprehend the individuals responsible for those crimes, especially in connection to the deaths of Elmar Huseynov (2005), Alim Kazimli (2005), Novruzali Mammadov (2009), Rafig Tagi (2011) and former IRFS chairman Rasim Aliyev (2015);
• Immediately and unconditionally release all journalists, bloggers and poets imprisoned on trumped-up charges for exercising their right to freedom of expression;
• Create and ensure safe working conditions for journalists.