New York, May 11, 2022 – Azerbaijan authorities must swiftly and thoroughly investigate threats and a recent attack against journalist Aytan Mammadova and ensure her safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
Around midnight on May 8, an unidentified man grabbed Mammadova in the elevator of her apartment building in the Binagadi district in the capital Baku, held a knife against her throat, and threatened her and her young daughter, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
Mammadova, a freelance journalist who frequently covers prominent criminal cases, told CPJ that although the man did not give a reason for the attack, she believes it relates to her coverage of a high-profile murder trial in which she has reported on evidence of alleged police malpractice.
“The recent brazen attack and threats against Aytan Mammadova constitutes not just an assault on her, but on all journalists in Azerbaijan,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Azerbaijani authorities must send a clear message that such attempts to intimidate journalists into silence will not be tolerated by swiftly bringing those responsible to justice, including anyone who may have ordered the attack.”
Mammadova told CPJ that the man followed her into the apartment’s elevator and then, when the doors closed, grabbed her lower jaw from behind with one hand and pressed the knife against her throat with the other, making two small cuts. He asked her, “Haven’t you learned?” and threatened to attack her 12-year-old daughter next time, Mammadova said.
When the elevator reached her floor, the man let her go and took the elevator back down; the journalist immediately told her husband, who tried to run after the man, but the attacker had already fled. Other than the cuts, Mammadova was uninjured, she told CPJ.
Binagadi District Police Department has opened a criminal investigation into the incident, the reports stated. CPJ called Binagadi District Police Department for information on the investigation but was asked to contact the Interior Ministry of Azerbaijan. CPJ emailed the ministry but did not immediately receive a reply.
Mammadova said that she is certain the attack relates to her journalism since she does not have any personal enemies. She has been a prominent journalist covering the high-profile, ongoing trial over the 2019 murder of 10-year-old Narmin Guliyeva and believes the attack is related to this coverage.
In articles for Radio Azadliq, U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service, and on her Facebook page, where she has over 7,000 followers, Mammadova has reported on allegations that police investigating the Guliyeva case sought to frame an innocent man for the murder, including claims by the suspect that police “tortured” him into confessing, that police tried to coerce residents to implicate the suspect, and indications police may have planted evidence.
The journalist said she received a phone call about a month ago from an unknown person who warned her to “keep her mouth shut” and threatened her daughter, which she believes relates to her coverage of the case.
CPJ called Tovuz District Police Department, which investigated the Guliyeva murder case, for comment, but no one answered.