Death of Azerbaijani Journalist a Blow to Press Freedom

The fatal stabbing of Azerbaijani journalist Rafig Taghi is a blow to press freedom and the latest in a series of troubling events that underscore the worsening human rights situation in Azerbaijan.  On November 19, Taghi was stabbed multiple times near his home in Baku by an unknown man. While in the hospital, Taghi said the attack was likely in retaliation for a piece he wrote for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) on globalization that was critical of the Iranian government, and suspected his attacker was a supporter of the regime. Police have launched a criminal investigation into his death but have not yet arrested the assailant. In a clear case of incitement to violence, Iranian Ayatollah Sheikh Mahammad Lankari’s praised Taghi’s death.

Azerbaijan is not an electoral democracy, and the freedom of expression situation remains dire. Although the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and press, in practice authorities severely limit both. Libel is a criminal offense, which the government frequently uses for political reasons. Authorities continue to imprison journalists and bloggers who express dissenting opinions. In June 2011, an American journalist and British activist were attacked. In August 2011, six Azerbaijani opposition activists were sentenced to up to three years in prison on trumped up charges for “interfering with parliamentary elections,” and authorities bulldozed the office of prominent human rights defender Leyla Yunus, who had spoken out against the government’s policy of forced evictions.

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Freedom in the World 2011: Azerbaijan
Freedom of the Press 2011: Azerbaijan