There is an environment of impunity for crimes against journalists in Azerbaijan, which gives rise to self-censorship among journalists and suppression of free speech. This was the keynote in the roundtable held in IRFS Media Center on November 23.
The roundtable was organized to mark the International Day to End Impuntiy. IRFS chairman Emin Huseynov noted that the Day to End Impunity coincides with the date of death of prominent Azerbaijani writer and journalist Rafig Tagi, who was murdered last November. Huseynov emphasized that there have been more than 200 violent attacks on journalists in the past seven years and two journalists were murdered. Virtually none of these crimes was solved, which has resulted in a climate of complete impunity for those who wish to use violence to silence critical voices.
Turan Information Agency director Mehman Aliyev said that the International Day to End Impunity launched in 2011 marks the anniversary of mass killings of journalists in Filippines in 2009. Aliyev expressed the opinion that this is a belated decision. “It would be better to have established this day 20 years ago to attract international attention to the issue of impunity for crimes against journalists” suggested Aliyev.
As for killing of Tagi, the journalistic community conducted an independent investigation into this case. It found that no adequate official investigation was conducted to find the killers, and doctors did nothing to save the life of Tagi. The murder of Tagi was used by government stakeholders, to once again say that “society is not ready for the adoption of a law on decriminalization of defamation which may lead to violence against journalists. Aliyev said that the arrest of Tagi in 2006 was justified by the government as intention to ensure his security given threats from Islamists.
Director of the Qanun Publishing House Shahbaz Khuduoglu, speaking about the death of Tagi, expressed the view that Tagi fell victim to indifference from his colleagues and the society. If there was a large-scale campaign of support and solidarity with Tagi, the doctors of the city clinical center would not be so negligent, and the true reasons of such a serious crime would be investigated. He expressed doubt that the murder of Elmar Huseynov and Rafig Tagi would be solved even if there is a power change.
Journalist Khadija Ismayilova believes that one of the causes of impunity for crimes against journalists is the intolerance on the part of not only the government, but also various other groups of the society. In particular, Iranian ayatollahs are guilty for the death of Tagi, no matter who has committed this crime, and the Islamists in Azerbaijan supported the persecution and threats of Tagi. Ismayilova stressed that she meant radical Islamists, and not all Muslims.
With regard to the investigation on the violation of her privacy, Ismayilova said that she had doubts about the investigation from the very beginning. “My goal is to conduct my own investigation, to expose their lies and bring shame on them, and make them feel sorry for having committed it,” said Ismayilova.
The meeting ended with the adoption of a statement, demanding to solve all crimes against journalists, to stop their harassment and intimidation, and to immediately release nine journalists and three human rights activists who have been arrested in connection with freedom of expression.
The roundtable was followed by a visit to the grave of late journalist Rafiq Tagi, who is widely considered to have been targeted for free speech.