Sports journalist colleagues in Azerbaijan are in shock after the death of a sportswriter following an attack by men alleged to be supporters of a football club, one of whose players the reporter had criticised on Facebook.
Sportswriter Rasim Aliyev wrote that he did not want someone “so immoral” to represent his country, after Azerbaijani international striker Javid Huseynov waved a Turkish flag at home supporters during a Europa League match in Cyprus between his club side, Gabala FK, and Apollon.
According to local media reports, Aliyev was later lured to meeting a man who claimed to be a relative of Huseynov. When he arrived at the rendezvous in the Sabail district of Baku, the journalist was assaulted by six men who left him with four broken ribs. He died through internal bleeding.
Aliyev was a freelancer who was working for the ann.az news website. In the hours before his death, he gave an interview from his hospital bed in which he said that Huseynov and his relatives had telephoned him and invited him to drink tea with them to resolve the matter.
Gabala FK has suspended Huseynov – who so far not commented –“until the issue is clarified”.
The issue may extend far beyond football. Aliyev had previously worked for a media monitoring body, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IFRS) that was shut down last year after pressure from the Azerbaijan government. In June this year IFRS’s founder, Emin Huseynov (no relation to the footballer), was forced to flee to Switzerland.
Azerbaijan is a dangerous country for journalists. Five reporters have been killed there since 1992. Others who have looked into corruption at the highest level of government have been subjected to harassment by the state, although President Ilham Aliyev (no relation to the latest victim) has called Rasim Aliyev’s death “a threat to freedom of speech” and has “taken the investigation under his personal control”.
Rasim Aliyev had been the subject of earlier threats. In July he posted on Facebook that he was being intimidated via social media.
Journalist Emin Milli, who spent time in one of President Aliyev’s prisons and who now lives in Germany where he runs Meydan TV (which is hosting Rasim Aliyev’s final interview), said: “He was a quiet hero, one of the people who was always there. When things were happening to IFRS he stayed working for them. He was modest, honest and exceptionally brave.”
In June, as Baku was staging the first European Games, the Azerbaijan government denied an entry visa to The Guardian’s reporter, Owen Gibson, following Gibson’s earlier reports on rising concerns over the government’s clampdown on freedom of speech and political opposition.
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