Investigators name chief suspect in murder of opposition editor

New York, May 4, 2005—Investigators in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, said late yesterday that a 46-year-old Georgian citizen is the chief suspect in the March 2 murder of Elmar Huseynov, founder and editor of the opposition news magazine Monitor.

The National Security Ministry (MNB), which is conducting the inquiry into Huseynov’s killing, identified the suspect as Tair Hubanov, according to local and international news reports. Using a different name, the man came to Huseynov’s apartment several times in the week before the murder and inquired when the editor would be home, Rushana Huseynova, the victim’s wife, told the Committee to Protect Journalists in a telephone interview today.

Huseynova said MNB officers showed her a photo of the man yesterday, although the official MNB announcement distributed later that day included a composite rendering of the suspect. Huseynova said she was confused that the actual photo was not released.

On April 7, investigators said that they identified six suspects in Huseynov’s murder, all Georgian citizens, but the MNB did not describe any motive or evidence linking them to the murder. Five of the suspects were released later that month for lack of evidence.

Also on April 7, the prosecutor general’s office reclassified Huseynov’s case from a “premeditated murder” to an “act of terrorism.” Investigators said the murder was meant to destabilize the country, but did not elaborate, according to local press reports. The new status echoed President Ilham Aliyev’s characterization of the crime; he condemned the murder on March 3 as a “provocation against the Azerbaijani state” and an “act of terrorism.”

Huseynova told CPJ today that she is skeptical that investigators have identified the real killer, and said she believes her husband was killed for his work as a journalist in Azerbaijan.

Huseynov was shot several times on the night of March 2 in his Baku apartment building. 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 leadership, the weekly faced several defamation lawsuits after criticizing government officials.