An Azerbaijani journalist Rasim Aliyev, age 30, died from internal bleeding in a Baku hospital on August 9 after being beaten the previous day by what he said was a group of supporters of the Qabala FK soccer player Cavid Huseynov. Aliyev said he was attacked due to the criticism he made of Huseynov on his Facebook page. Police have detained several suspects, including Huseynov’s cousin Elsan Ismayilov. Sport for Rights called Aliyev's death a "murder" that shows "critical voices are at greater risk now than ever before". The incident has hit the rock-bottom when it comes to human rights situation in Azerbaijan.
Worsening human rights climate in Azerbaijan
Rasim Aliyev’s murder is the latest incident in a vicious cycle of violence against journalists in Azerbaijan. Over the past decade, there have been hundreds of attacks against journalists in the country, including the murder of Monitor magazine editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov in 2005, Tolishi Sedo newspaper editor-in-chief Novruzali Mammadov who died in 2009 while serving a 10-year prison sentence on politically motivated charges and writer and journalist Rafig Tagi in 2011. Murders remain unsolved, as do nearly all other cases of attacks against journalists. There is further evidence on Azerbaijani authorities to silence all forms of criticism such as cases of human right defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus and journalist Khadija Ismayilova. All three of them are currently standing trial on political motivated charges. Azerbaijan researcher at Amnesty International Natalia Nozadze stated that Azerbaijan’s journalists and human rights activists have been a subject of persecution and attack for too long and the investigations on such issues have frequently lacked impartiality. Opposition politician Isa Gambar, the Head of the National Strategic Thought Center, placed the blame on regime for creating fertile ground for crimes against journalists.
Murder of Rasim Aliyev
After the beating, in the hospital on August 8, Aliyev gave an interview when he said that everything started when he criticized Huseynov for his behavior after his Azerbaijani club team, Qabala FK, played the Cypriot club Apollon in Cyprus in a UEFA Europa League match on July 30. Huseynov made a rude hand gesture after an offensive answer to Greek journalist, who asked why Huseynov had pulled out a Turkish flag after the game. Aliyev criticized the behavior in his Facebook page calling Huseynov “amoral”, “impertinent” and “unable to control himself”. Aliyev also mentioned that afterwards he received a call from someone claiming to be Huseynov's cousin, who yelled and swore at him on the phone, but later on called again apologizing and inviting Aliyev to discuss situation over tea. When Aliyev arrived at the meeting location and was ready to shake the man’s hand, he was suddenly attacked from behind, knocked to the ground and beaten by six men for about 40 seconds. Aliyev said they took his phone and wallet and ran away. He was then taken to the hospital where doctors said he had four broken ribs, an ear injury, but was said not to have any damage to his internal organs. His condition worsened overnight and doctors operated to remove his spleen, there was also an injury found in Aliyev’s lung.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Office of General Prosecutor released the statement regarding Aliyev's murder. The statement read that the investigation team is looking into the case and the case is under close supervision of the General Prosecutor and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The suspects are facing 7 to 12 years in jail due to the intentional infliction of body harm causing death. Ali Hasanov, an aide to President Ilham Aliyev, said the case "is being closely investigated and the perpetrators will be found."
Aliyev harassed previously
This was not an isolated incident. Aliyev was subject to violent beating and attacks as well as threatening messages before. On 25 July Aliyev reported receiving a threat to punish him for posting photos showing police brutality and social discontent such as protesters carrying a banner “Resign”. The threats were reported to police, however, they failed to protect Aliyev. Rasim Aliyev had also faced other forms of pressure in his work with Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), including being beaten by police in 2013 when the incident was captured in a widely circulated photograph.
Aliyev worked for the IRFS, one of Azerbaijan's leading media-freedom organizations until it was forced to shut down in 2014 after its bank account was frozen, office raided, and its director, Emin Huseynov, reportedly harassed. When the organization was shut down Aliyev continued his work as freelance reporter.
International attention to transparent investigation
The European Union and several human rights groups have called on authorities in Azerbaijan to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the death of journalist Rasim Aliyev. Twelve human rights organizations, including the Sport for Rights movement, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Index on Censorship, International Media Support and PEN American Center supported the appeal for a transparent investigation. Special attention was also expressed to violence against human rights activists and journalist in general and the worsening human rights climate.