(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Baku, 25 November 2011 - Prominent Azerbaijani journalist and writer, Rafiq Tagi, died in Baku on 23 November from the injuries he sustained during a brutal knife attack four days earlier. Rafiq's death on 23 November – the world's first International Day to End Impunity – is a chilling reminder of the dangers faced by journalists in Azerbaijan. As the Azerbaijan freedom of expression community mourns the loss of Rafiq, the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan (IPGA) calls for an end to the cycle of impunity in the country and for an independent, impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.
The IPGA welcomes the Azerbaijani government's recent move to open a criminal investigation into the attack, but the authorities must not overlook the context surrounding his death. Rafiq had been receiving death threats in the weeks prior to the attack, believed to be in retaliation for an article amongst others published on Radio Azadlyq's website on 10 November 2011. In this article 'Iran and the Inevitability of Globalization' Rafiq reportedly criticised the current Iranian government, most notably for discrediting Islam.
The Azerbaijani authorities have a poor record of investigating attacks against journalists, contributing significantly to the climate of fear and impunity which has come to dominate the media landscape over recent years. In addition, the Azerbaijani government was unable to protect Rafiq, despite him reporting the death threats.
"Our thoughts are with Rafiq Tagi's family. We are deeply shocked and saddened to hear of his death. We met with Rafiq last year during the IPGA mission to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government must take immediate steps and initiate a thorough, prompt and independent investigation into the death of Rafiq Tagi which must include the context of his professional activities from the outset," said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director at ARTICLE 19.
"This was a brutal attack against an outspoken critic and journalist. He has been punished in the most shocking way for exercising his right to free expression. This is the second case of the death of a journalist since 2005 and is another blow to the Azerbaijan journalism community," said Natasha Schmidt, Assistant Editor at Index on Censorship.
Rafiq did not shy away from controversial subjects. He served a prison sentence following his conviction in May 2007 on charges of inciting religious hatred, based on an article he had written arguing that Islamic values were preventing Azerbaijan's integration into European structures and stunting its democratic progress. A leading Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani, placed a fatwa on him in 2007.
In addition to the fatwa, Rafiq received death threats during his defamation trial in 2007. The Azerbaijani authorities never publicly condemned the fatwa or the public death threats he received during his trial in 2007. Even today his death has only had minimal coverage on state governed TV and the authorities have yet to publicly condemn his murder.
Those responsible for his murder must be brought to justice and the impunity so endemic in the country must stop. The Azerbaijani government should show its genuine commitment to human rights and comply with its obligations under international law, in particular the right to life and the right to freedom of expression.
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
Reporters Without Borders
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Human Rights House Foundation
Media Diversity Institute
Norwegian Helsinki Committee