Journalist severely beaten in Nakhchivan republic of Azerbaijan

New York, August 29, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns the savage beating of Ilgar Nasibov, an independent journalist and human rights defender based in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR)–a mountainous exclave of Azerbaijan where the practice of journalism is severely restricted.

Unknown assailants left Nasibov–a freelancer for publications including the Azerbaijani news agency Turan and the local service of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty–unconscious in a pool of blood late on August 21, according to press reports. He was found at the offices of the Nakhchivan Resource Center, the only independent human rights organization in the exclave, where he also works. He had suffered severe head trauma, bruises, fractured ribs, a broken nose, and massive blood loss, according to the reports. A photo circulated after the attack showed Nasibov with his clothes soaked in blood and his eyes swollen shut.

“We are outraged by the barbaric assault on Ilgar Nasibov and call on Azerbaijani authorities to immediately mount a thorough and effective investigation into his beating, focusing on Nasibov’s journalism and human rights work as a motive,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said.

The journalist has received basic medical treatment at a local hospital, but needs more intensive care, which is not available in Nakhchivan, Human Rights Watch reported, citing medical experts.

Nasibov and his wife Melakhet Nasibova are among the handful of independent reporters and human rights defenders working in Nakhchivan. The couple has been subject to harassment and politically motivated prosecution for years, CPJ research shows. They have covered sensitive topics such as police corruption and human rights abuses by local authorities. In 2007, Ilgar Nasibov was arrested, summarily tried without defense counsel, and sentenced to 90 days in jail for defaming the Nakhchivan city police chief.

The August 21 attack on Nasibov came amid intense persecution of independent journalists and rights defenders in Azerbaijan. The government has cracked down on civil society by, among other things, imprisoning of Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights activists and effectively shutting down nongovernmental organizations, including those that support freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The violations of press freedom and international human rights norms comes as Azerbaijan chairs the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe–the pan-European human rights body.