In Azerbaijan, independent journalist dies after being beaten in Baku

New York, August 10, 2015–An independent reporter in Azerbaijan died early Sunday after being beaten viciously the day before in Baku, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in Azerbaijan to conduct an efficient and transparent investigation into the attack on Rasim Aliyev, determine the motive, and ensure all of the perpetrators are brought to justice.

“We condemn the killing of Rasim Aliyev and urge authorities to probe the fatal attack in the most thorough and transparent way,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “The administration of President Ilham Aliyev must stop the repression of journalists and human rights activists, which has nurtured the climate of impunity that made this attack possible.”

Aliyev, 30, contributed reporting to several independent news websites and was the chairman of the Baku-based press freedom group Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), which was raided last year. Several of the group’s staff members have reported being harassed. Prior to the fatal attack against Aliyev over the weekend, the journalist had received threats in connection with his work and critical posts he wrote on social networks about the climate for press freedom and human rights in the country, according to local and international news reports.

Amid a crackdown on traditional media in Azerbaijan, some activists and journalists have taken to social networking sites in an attempt to give the public an alternative to state media, CPJ research shows.

Aliyev sought help at a hospital for broken ribs and difficulty in hearing after being attacked in the Sabail district of Baku, according to news reports. He died early Sunday after he underwent surgery, the reports said. According to an interview Aliyev gave in the hospital, the journalist said he believed the attack was related to a Facebook post he wrote in which he criticized a soccer player. He said he was attacked when he went to meet an individual, who identified himself on the phone as a relative of the player, who said he was angry about the post but then expressed a desire to reconcile. On meeting the individual, Aliyev was attacked from behind by six or seven assailants who beat and kicked him and stole his phone and wallet, he said.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev condemned the attack and called it a “threat to freedom of speech and expression,” according to regional press reports. Authorities launched a probe, and have detained at least one suspect in the attack.

The climate for press freedom in Azerbaijan remains at an all-time low, CPJ research shows. At least eight journalists­­–including the award-winning reporter Khadija Ismayilova–are imprisoned on fabricated charges in retaliation for their work. The few remaining critical news outlets and their staff members often face official harassment, including debilitating lawsuits, evictions, a ban on foreign funding, and arbitrary travel bans, according to CPJ research and news reports. In the past month, several exiled journalists reported that authorities are putting pressure on their relatives in Azerbaijan in order to silence the journalists abroad.