A year after editor’s murder in Baku, case appears to grow cold

New York, March 1, 2006—One year after the founder and editor of the opposition weekly Monitor was slain in the entrance of his apartment building in Baku, Azerbaijan, no suspects are in custody and many colleagues and relatives believe the government’s investigation is on the wrong track. The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for the government to renew its investigation by pursuing all leads in the March 2, 2005, murder of Elmar Huseynov.

“It’s very disheartening that a year has passed and Elmar Huseynov’s killers remain at large,” CPJ’s Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Many questions are being raised about the direction of this probe, and we call on Azerbaijani authorities to aggressively pursue every lead and bring those responsible to justice.”

Huseynov, 38, was gunned down around 9 p.m. while walking up the stairwell of his apartment building on his way home from work. Seven bullets pierced his body, and he died at the scene. The attack appeared to be well planned. A light in the entrance was damaged and several telephones in the area were disconnected at the time of the shooting. Prior to his murder, Huseynov had complained of multiple threats and was concerned about his safety.

Investigators have identified Georgian citizens as suspects in the killing but have provided no details on the alleged involvement of the men. Authorities in Georgia have refused extradition requests, citing a lack of evidence.

Under Huseynov’s leadership, Monitor had been sharply critical of the government and President Ilham Aliyev. The weekly had been forced to pay damages in several defamation lawsuits filed by public officials, and it was forced to close twice in five years.

Because of this record of critical reporting and government retaliation, colleagues and relatives suspect the killing was connected to Huseynov’s work and that high-ranking government officials may have had a hand in plotting the murder. “I remain sure that someone among the authorities did order the assassination of my husband,” the news Web site Eurasianet quoted Huseynov’s widow, Rushana Huseynova, as saying.

Aliyev has called the case a “provocation against the Azerbaijani state” and an “act of terrorism.” On April 7, 2005, investigators said they had identified several suspects in Huseynov’s murder—all Georgian citizens and ethnic Azerbaijanis—but described no motive or evidence linking them to the murder. The case was transferred the next day from the prosecutor general’s office, which normally handles murder probes, to the Ministry of National Security (MNB), where it was reclassified from “premeditated murder” to an “act of terrorism.” Authorities said the killing was meant to destabilize the country but did not explain further.

In May 2005, the MNB identified two Georgian citizens by name—Tair Hubanov and Teymuraz Aliyev—as being wanted in the killing. The Georgian government has refused to extradite the men until Azerbaijani authorities provide substantial evidence linking them to Huseynov’s murder, according to local and international press reports.

In July 2005, Azerbaijani authorities tried, sentenced, and imprisoned for two years Turgai Bayramov, an Azebaiajani citizen and a cousin of one of the suspects. Bayramov was imprisoned for allegedly falsifying documents to buy mobile phones for the suspects, the Turan news agency reported.

Investigators have reported no developments in the case since then. An MNB spokesman told journalists today that the suspects in Huseynov’s killing are being sought in 185 countries under an international arrest warrant, the newspaper Ekho reported.