Rafiq Tagi

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Tagi, 61, a freelance reporter who contributed to the Azerbaijani service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and a number of local news websites and newspapers, was known for his opposition to political Islam and his criticism of the Azerbaijani authorities. He died in a Baku hospital, days after being treated for stab wounds he suffered in a November 19attack.

In a November 21 interview conducted by RFE/RL at the hospital, the journalist described the attack and speculated on its motive. Tagi said he was returning to his Baku home,located near the main police headquarters, when he heard an unidentified man running behind him. The man ran up to Tagi and, without saying or taking anything,stabbed him seven times. Tagi underwent surgery for a damaged spleen.

In the interview, Tagi suggested the attack could have been related to an October article in which he criticized Iranian authorities for their theologically based policies and suppression of human rights. Tagi said Iranian clerics had issued a fatwa against him.

Tagi died in the hospital two days after giving the interview; initial reports said he had choked. A subsequent report by the Ministry of Health attributed the death to peritonitis. Colleagues found his death to be suspicious. According to local press reports and CPJ sources, Tagi was making a good recovery and his condition was considered stable at the time of his death. Doctors had checked on Tagi 10 minutes before he was found dead and found nothing of concern, the Azerbaijani division of PEN International reported. PEN said that visitors were concerned by lax security at the hospital given that Tagi had received death threats.

Tagi was arrested in November 2006 in connection with an article in the independent newspaper Senet, which asserted that Islam was hampering Azerbaijan’s economic and political progress. In May 2007, Tagi was convicted of inciting religious hatred and sentenced to three years in prison. Tagi had received death threats from Islamists in Azerbaijan and neighboring Iran. CPJ spoke with his supporters in 2007, who expressed concern that Tagi was in danger.

A presidential spokesman said authorities were investigating the stabbing. The Iranian embassy in Azerbaijan denied official involvement in the attack, press reports said, although the Iranian cleric Mohammed Fazel Lankarani welcomed Tagi’s death as a "just sentence" in a published statement.