Arrests in the murder of opposition editor met with suspicion

New York, April 8, 2005—Investigators in the capital, Baku, announced late yesterday that they had detained six suspects in the March 2 murder of Elmar Huseynov, founder and editor of the opposition weekly news magazine Monitor, according to local and international press reports.

Local press reports identified the suspects by name and said they were citizens from Georgia, but the National Security Ministry (MNB), now conducting the inquiry, did not describe any motive or evidence linking the six to their alleged involvement in the murder.

The prosecutor general’s office also announced today that it was reclassifying Huseynov’s case from a “premeditated murder” to an “act of terrorism.” Investigators claimed the murder was meant to destabilize the country but did not elaborate or explain the decision, according to local press reports. It also remains unclear how this reclassification will affect the prosecution of the crime.

The new status of the case closely resembles President Ilham Aliyev’s previous characterization; he condemned the murder on March 3 as a “provocation against the Azerbaijani state” and an “act of terrorism.”

Huseynov’s colleagues and family remain skeptical about the investigation and have criticized the MNB’s lack of clarity. Monitor journalist Akrep Hasanov told CPJ in a telephone interview today that Baku authorities have yet to provide information about how the suspects are linked to the crime, and give a rationale behind the reclassification of the capital offense. Rusana Huseynova, widow of the slain editor, claimed, “I don’t believe the investigation can expose the mastermind,” the independent Baku-based news agency Turan reported on March 25.

Elmar Huseynov was gunned down in the evening of March 2 in his Baku apartment building. He was shot several times and died on the spot. Huseynov’s family said the editor had received threats prior to his murder and was concerned about his safety. His colleagues believe that the murder is related to his work at Monitor.

Under Huseynov’s editorial leadership the magazine had faced several defamation lawsuits in retaliation for criticizing government officials. Some opposition activists believe his killing was an effort to intimidate or silence the media ahead of November parliamentary elections and have formed a group to conduct an independent inquiry into the murder, the Moscow daily Novye Izvetiya reported

“We urge President Ilham Aliyev to ensure that investigators pursue all leads and potential motives for Huseynov’s murder,” CPJ’s Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Only a thorough and transparent inquiry followed by an aggressive prosecution will reassure journalists that the true culprits have been brought to justice.”

Read CPJ’s extensive background material on Huseynov’s March 2 murder.