Aliyev, the acting chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a Baku-based press freedom group, died at a hospital one day after being beaten, regional and international press reported. According to news reports, Aliyev also contributed reporting to several independent news outlets including the independent Azerbaijan News Network.
According to an interview Aliyev gave Meydan TV in hospital before he died, posted on the YouTube page of the independent broadcaster, the 30-year-old journalist said he believed he was attacked over a post on his personal Facebook page in which he criticized Javid Huseynov, a soccer player with Azerbaijani club Gabala FC. According to the video and news reports, Aliyev said he received a phone call from an individual who claimed to be related to Huseynov. Aliyev said the caller argued with him over the phone about the Facebook post, then asked to meet. After the pair shook hands, Aliyev said he received a heavy blow to his left ear, and was attacked from behind.
According to news reports and Aliyev’s account to Meydan TV, he said at least six people beat and kicked him in the Sabail district of Baku, before stealing his wallet and cell phone.
Aliyev was taken to a hospital to be treated for broken ribs and difficulty in hearing after the attack, according to the U.S.-government funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. According to a RFE/RL Azeri service report that cited Aliyev’s friends who visited him in the hospital, injuries including a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding were not identified by doctors until the journalist started to complain of chest pain.
Aliyev took over as chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety when its previous chairman, Emin Huseynov, was forced to flee into exile in August 2015, the press freedom group said. In a statement released after Aliyev’s death, the press freedom group said: “Aliyev took it upon himself to lead IRFS through the organization’s most difficult time, when it was in effect paralyzed by never-before-seen levels [of] government pressure.” The statement said Aliyev received numerous threats over the phone and Internet, which he reported to police. The statement added that Azerbajain’s government should take “full responsibility for the murder of Rasim Aliyev and the atmosphere of intolerance and impunity within which his murder occurred.”
Aliyev received threats over his work and critical posts he wrote on social networks about press freedom and human rights in Azerbaijan, according to local and international news reports and exiled journalists with whom CPJ spoke. One colleague, who asked to remain anonymous, told CPJ Aliyev received threats after publishing an image on Facebook that he claimed showed a poice officer punching him. He published the post on July 2, the day Azerbaijan celebrates its police.
Amid a crackdown on traditional media in Azerbaijan, some activists and journalists have taken to social networking sites to give the public an alternative to state media, CPJ has found.
Exiled Azerbaijani reporters and international reporters with whom CPJ spoke claimed Azerbaijani authorities were responsible for Aliyev’s death because they failed to investigate threats and created conditions in which journalists can be attacked with impunity. One local journalist, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, said Aliyev’s beating took place a year after authorities raided the offices of Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who is not related to the journalist, condemned the attack and called it a “threat to freedom of speech and expression,” according to regional press reports. Authorities have charged at least six people over the attack, including Huseynov, reports said. Their detention was extended in November 2015 and trial was pending at year’s end, reports said.
According to independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel, authorities classified the investigation as an attack with intent to inflict grave bodily harm that resulted in an unexpected death. The website said the journalist’s family contested this in September 2015 and said it should be classified as intent to murder. Aliyev’s family asked the authorities to investigate claims by the journalist’s colleagues that hospital staff failed to properly diagnose and Aliyev’s injuries, reports said.