Statement on the second anniversary of the murder of journalist and human rights defender Rasim Aliyev

August 9th, 2017

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the authorities of Azerbaijan for failing to fully investigate the murder of IRFS colleague Rasim Aliyev in August 2015. Chairman of IRFS, journalist and human rights defender Rasim Aliyev died in the hospital under strange circumstances a day after he was beaten up by a group of people on August 8, 2015.

The investigation into the death of the journalist determined that the journalist was the victim of a group of hooligans – Azerbaijani international footballer Javid Huseynov’s relatives who beat Rasim Aliyev allegedly for criticising Huseynov. However, IRFS considers Rasim Aliyev’s murder to be a politically motivated retaliation by the authorities disguised as a menial attack by football fans. The motives of the authorities could be that exactly a year before his death, i.e. on August 8, 2014, Rasim Aliyev helped his predecessor – former IRFS Board Chairman Emin Huseynov whom he replaced in October 2014 – to escape his imminent arrest.

The very fact that Rasim Aliyev was attacked on the same date exactly one year later speaks of the authorities’ intention to indirectly send a message to the public that the people, who seriously interfere with their plans, will face retaliation on their part.

Two weeks before his murder, Rasim Aliyev received threats in connection with his professional activities, but the police deliberately refused to provide the journalist with the protection he had asked for in writing.

Despite the injuries sustained as a result of the beating, the journalist was not carefully examined or placed in the intensive care unit, where doctors might have closely monitored him for 24 hours. Instead, the journalist was placed in an ordinary ward, and his relatives were assured that the journalist was safe as ‘the injuries did not pose a serious threat to his health’. After midnight Rasim Aliyev’s close relatives were persuaded to leave the hospital so he could rest, and at around 3 am, the journalist suddenly died in the hospital under unclear circumstances. The doctors’ report reads that Rasim Aliyev’s condition suddenly worsened and the doctors could not save his life despite their efforts.

The fact that the police refused to protect the journalist’s life despite his request and the doctors deliberately refused to save his life and that none of the policemen or doctors were brought to justice suggests that high-ranking state officials are behind the unpunished murder of the journalist.

The authorities limited themselves to arresting and sentencing the persons directly involved in the beating of the journalist, but refused to investigate the motive of political violence and the deliberate negligence of doctors and the inaction of law enforcement forces that were supposed to save and protect the journalist.

Rasim Aliyev’s death is not the first mysterious death of a journalist in a hospital. In 2012, another government critic, journalist and writer Rafig Tagi died in similarly mysterious circumstances in the same hospital after a failed assassination attempt. Back then the authorities put the murder down to Islamic fanatics and later simply closed the investigation of the murder because the killers could not be found.

Elderly journalist and linguist Novruzali Mammadov, who was accused under fabricated charges of treason and espionage for Iran, similarly died in the prison hospital.

“The patterns of staged tragic events resulting in the death of journalists are gradually becoming a practice for the repressive state machine,” said IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov, who lives abroad in political exile. “Until the world community begins to subject state officials to severe sanctions as it happened after the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison, the atmosphere of impunity for crimes against journalists will not only remain but also strengthen. Blogger Mehman Galandarov’s recent death in prison is another proof in this regard. The fact that after the closure of IRFS’ offices and the death of Rasim Aliyev, the authorities arrested incumbent IRFS Board chairman, Mehman Huseynov, on fabricated defamation charges in March of this year shows the authorities’ apparent hostility to independent civil society institutions, including the media and NGOs,” Emin Huseynov summed up.

IRFS calls on the authorities to re-investigate the murders of Rasim Aliyev, Elmar Huseynov, Alim Kazimli, Novruzali Mammadov, Rafig Tagi and Mehman Galandarov to find and punish the masterminds and perpetrators of these crimes.

IRFS further calls on the authorities to end the practice of politically motivated arrests of their critics and release journalists Afgan Mukhtarli, Mehman Huseynov, Mahbub Zulfugarli, Seymur Hazi, Aziz Orujov, Faig Amirli, Nijat Aliyev, Araz Guliyev, Fikrat Ibishbayli, Afgan Sadigov, Elchin Ismayilli and Javid Shiraliyev, bloggers Rashad Ramazanov and Ilkin Rustemzade, writers Saday Shakarli and Tofig Hasanov, as well as graffiti activists Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov.