The climate of impunity – which allows attacks on journalists in Azerbaijan to remain unpunished – is contributing to the ongoing repression of free expression, the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety said today [23 November 2013]. On the International Day to End Impunity, the organization calls for justice for journalists who have been killed and attacked because of their work.
The organization condemns in the strongest terms impunity for those responsible for the murders and repression, as well as lack of official concern for the protection of media professionals.
On the 2nd anniversary of Rafiq Tagi's death, IRFS remembers a courageous journalist and writer who stood up to injustice and wrongdoing and paid the ultimate price.
"Tagi was a remarkable man whose life was a true symbol of the struggle for a free and independent press, free and independent expression," IRFS CEO and Chairman Emin Huseynov said.
Tagi had been writing extensively about religious issues and faced numerous threats throughout his professional career. In November 2011, he was attacked in the street near his home by an unknown assailant who stabbed him seven times. Following surgery, Tagi had appeared to be in recovery, but he then died four days after the attack under circumstances the IRFS considered suspicious.
Two years after Tagi's death, IRFS believes that there needs to be renewed focus and attention not only to find those who enacted the killing but also to bring those who ordered the killing to justice. IRFS calls upon the government to ensure that justice and the rule of law prevail in Azerbaijan by bringing all perpetrators to justice in a timely, professional and transparent manner.
In August 2009, editor-in-chief of the minority Talysh language newspaper Tolishi Sedo and Talysh cultural activist Novruzali Mammadov died in custody while serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges of high treason. Prior to his death, Mammadov had reported a number of serious health issues, some of which were likely exacerbated during a 15-day period when prison officials kept him in solitary confinement and deprived him of bedding and warm clothes. The authorities failed to provide Mammadov with adequate medical care and kept him in prison despite widespread international calls for his release on humanitarian grounds.
In March 2005, Monitor magazine editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov was murdered in a well-organized attack that appeared to be a contract-style killing. After receiving a number of death threats, he was gunned down in the stairwell of his apartment building in Baku, where he died on the scene. Renowned for his groundbreaking reporting, an outspoken critic of the current regime, Elmar Huseynov set a standard of investigative journalism and personal courage in Azerbaijan and internationally. Despite continued calls on Azerbaijani authorities to find the perpetrators involved, justice has not been served in Elmar Husyenov's case and it remains unsolved.
Since Huseynov's death, there have been more than 250 attacks against journalists in Azerbaijan.
"The rights to freedom of expression, information and association are not abstract principles; they are rights that Azerbaijan has an obligation to fulfill. We can't allow the killers to determine what we should write or say. By demanding justice for our colleagues, we are also standing up for the right of people to seek, receive and impart information and ideas", IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov said.
IRFS urges Azerbaijani government to bring journalists' killers to justice and ensure the safety of Azerbaijani journalists at risk for carrying out their professional duties.
On the International Day to End Impunity, IRFS calls on Azerbaijani government to:
- Ensure that the murders of Rafiq Tagi and Elmar Huseynov, the death of Novruzali Mammadov as well as hundreds of attacks of journalists are properly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice;
- Provide public information on the state of the investigations into the murders of Rafiq Tagi and Elmar Huseynov;
- Detain and prosecute those responsible for the blackmail attempt and violation of privacy of outspoken female journalist Khadija Ismayilova in March 2012.
- Fully investigate all threats against journalists and establish adequate protection mechanisms.
- Immediately release the currently detained and imprisoned journalists, bloggers and activists behind bars in connection with exercising their right to freedom of expression.
- Drop the charges against journalists and activists who face jail time in connection with exercising their right to freedom of expression.
- Remove defamation provisions from the Criminal Code.