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Azerbaijan9 August 2006

Prosecutor says evidence links imprisoned former minister to journalist’s murder

Reporters Without Borders said today it took note of a claim by the prosecutor general that former economic development minister Farkhad Aliev, who is being held on a charge of financing a coup attempt, was involved in the March 2005 murder of Elmar Huseynov, the editor of the Monitor opposition weekly.

Prosecutor general Zakir Garalov yesterday told journalists that evidence has been found linking Aliev to Haji Mamedov, a police colonel accused of running a kidnapping ring. During a 25 July hearing about the abduction of a businessman’s relatives, Mamedov unexpectedly confessed to killing Huseynov on Aliev’s orders.

Reporters Without Borders said: “We call on the prosecutor and judges to be suspicious of this leading suspect’s belated confession. Investigators should not rule out any possibilities in this case.”

Garolov yesterday said an address book found in Aliev’s office contained Mamedov’s phone number. Aliev’s lawyer confirmed this, but said his client nonetheless completely denied having anything to do with the Huseynov murder.

Garalov claimed that Huseynov was murdered as a result of a series of critical articles about Aliev and Azpetrol, an oil consortium that used to be run by his brother, Rafiq Aliev, who - according to Garalov - had previously tried to “buy” Huseynov in 2003.

Aliev has been held since October 2005, ever since President Ilham Aliev accused him of financing an opposition coup attempt prior to the 2005 legislative elections.

1 march 2006

Government urged to find killers of Elmar Husseynov a year after his murder

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Reporters Without Borders called today on the Azerbaijan authorities, especially President Ilham Aliev, to make every effort to find those who ordered the killing of journalist Elmar Husseynov a year ago, on 2 March 2005.

Husseynov, editor of the independent weekly Monitor, was shot dead outside his apartment by gunmen who fired seven times at him, hitting him twice in the heart. The murder shocked the public and the media and many accused the government of ordering his death.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said no serious investigation has been done in the year since the murder and urged the prosecutor-general to reopen the case, make a new investigation and tell the media and international organisations about its findings.

It warned that President Aliev risked turning the international community against him if he allowed impunity to prevail. Azerbaijan should conform to European and international standards of freedom of the press and expression and stop hounding journalists and opposition supporters, it said.

The prosecutor-general had opened an enquiry into “premeditated brutal murder” and illegal possession of firearms the day after his death. The gun used in the killing, a Makarov revolver with a silencer, was found 150 metres from the scene of the crime.

A team of officials from the ministries of the interior and national security and the prosecutor-general’s office was assigned to investigate. President Aliev called the murder “a blot” on the country’s image and promised that everything would be done to solve the crime and punish the killers and those who hired them. He said the authorities had nothing to do with the murder.

Husseynov had been constantly hounded throughout his career and had several times been warned to stop criticising top government figures. The harassment began in 1996 when Monitor was heavily fined for libel, went bankrupt and had to close. The paper reappeared in 2000 under a new name, Monitor Weekly. A string of libel suits were then brought against it and its journalists. Husseynov was given a six-month prison sentence in 2001 after a complaint by the mayor of Baku.

Reporters Without Borders sent a fact-finding mission to Baku in April 2005. Husseynov had been used to death threats but they became explicit in January 2004. People wishing to remain anonymous told the mission that the secret police had warned him a few months before his death that he would be killed if he continued to criticise President Aliev and his family. He then considered fleeing abroad.

The prosecutor-general handed the case over to the national security ministry on 8 April 2005, describing it now as a “terrorist act,” a signal the authorities were not going to push the investigation.

Security service officials said on 4 May that a Georgian, Tair Khubanov, was the chief suspect. Another Georgian, Teimuraz Aliyev, was charged in the case on 19 May, but neither man could be found. An Azeri, Turgai Bayramov, was given a two-year prison sentence last summer for selling a mobile phone to the two suspects. Georgia refused to extradite the two men to Azerbaijan on grounds that the evidence against them was not strong enough.

Husseynov was one of the country’s best-known and best-respected journalists. He was a hydroelectric engineer before turning to journalism in 1995. Three years later, he started up a publishing house in Baku and founded three newspapers, Bakinski Bulvar, Bakiskie Vedomosti and Monitor, which quickly established a good reputation.

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