IFJ Demands Probe Over “Government Link” To Killing of Editor in Azerbaijan Media Crisis

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the “targeted and brutal” murder of a journalist in Azerbaijan and called for a full inquiry into reports that senior government officials may be linked to the killing.

Elmar Huseynov the founder and editor of the Russian-language independent weekly news magazine Monitor was shot seven times by an unidentified assailant in his apartment building.

Huseynov, who has been harassed and pursued by the authorities many times in recent years, was killed as he entered his apartment. The national state prosecutor set up an enquiry into what he said was a "brutal premeditated murder". They say all leads will be followed, including links between the killing and Husseynov's journalistic activities.

“This inquiry must get to the heart of allegations that people at the highest level in the state may be implicated in the killing,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

The Monitor has carried many reports of corruption and abuse of power by government members, including President Ilham Aliev. Some independent media say Huseynov was killed because of these reports. Huseynov's father Sabir told the French news agency Agence France-Presse he was sure "someone in the government" had ordered his son's murder. "We'd been expecting it."

Huseynov had already crossed swords with the authorities many times. He was sentenced to jail for six months in 2001 for supposedly libelling Baku mayor Gajibala Abutalibov. He was also fined the equivalent of 10,000 Euro in July 2002 over an article criticising the army.

In April 2003, a court in Yasamal fined him the equivalent of 4,600 Euro for libel and in October of that year he was beaten up by police while covering protests over the presidential elections for Turan, the local news agency. Earlier this year a court in Baku ordered him to pay the equivalent of 15,000 Euro for libel or face criminal charges.

Attacks on the independent media have increased since the IFJ sent a mission to Azerbaijan in October 2003 following controversial elections.

Akper Hasanov, a journalist with Monitor, was detained by soldiers at Baku military headquarters on 2 February for five hours after he reported on abuses and mismanagement in an Azerbaijani military unit. At the time he was forced to confirm in writing that a critical article entitled, published in Monitor on 29 January, was written by Huseynov.

On February 25, Qanimet Zahid, editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Azadliq, and Azer Ahmedli, a director working for the same publication were kidnapped, tortured and blackmailed by three individuals and two policemen.

“All of these incidents illustrate that journalism in Azerbaijan exists in a twilight world of menace and intimidation,” said Aidan White. “The killing of Huseynov seems to be the inevitable consequence of official hostility against critical and independent journalism.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries