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A Journalist Died After Being Beaten Over A Facebook Status About Soccer

Rasim Aliyev's death after criticizing a prominent local soccer player comes in the worst atmosphere for press freedom in Azerbaijan since its independence.

Posted on August 10, 2015, at 11:03 a.m. ET

An independent journalist in Azerbaijan has died following a brutal beating he said was retribution for a Facebook status criticizing a soccer player, in the latest incident in an increasingly difficult environment for reporters in the country.

Speaking from his hospital bed to the opposition website Meydan TV on Saturday, Aliyev said he had been attacked by relatives of Javid Huseynov, who plays for Azerbaijan's national soccer team, the day before.

The dispute arose last week when Aliyev, 30, wrote the status criticizing Huseynov. The soccer player had rudely gestured at a journalist who asked him why he waved a Turkish flag before his club side played against a team from the Greek-controlled part of Cyprus. (Azerbaijan enjoys close political and cultural ties with Turkey, which has occupied the northern side of Cyprus since 1974.)

"I do not want someone this amoral, impertinent, and unable to control himself to represent me on European soccer fields," Aliyev wrote.

On Saturday, Aliyev said he was approached by a man who claimed to be Huseynov's cousin, swore at him, then apologized and asked to meet. When Aliyev went to meet him, half a dozen men beat him, then took his wallet and phone, he said.

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Aliyev died a day later of internal bleeding he suffered as a result of the beating, his sister told Radio Free Europe. In a statement published Monday, the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, the press organization Aliyev chaired, said doctors had failed to provide him with adequate medical care that could have saved his life.

The group said that Aliyev had received numerous other death threats in the three weeks preceding the attack, but failed in his appeal for police protection. "This murder is a constituent part of the Azerbaijan's government policy of deliberately destroying the country's civil society and voices of dissent," the statement said.

Aliyev's death comes at the most trying time for independent journalists and human rights activists in Azerbaijan since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Khadija Ismayilova, the country's most famous investigative journalist, is standing trial on charges her supporters say are retribution for her work exposing widespread government corruption.

Most of Azerbaijan's top activists are either in jail on similar charges, or have gone underground or fled the country. After police arrested the brother-in-law of Meydan TV's founder, Emin Milli, last month, 23 of his relatives wrote an open letter denouncing him for "insidious thoughts." Emin Huseynov, the founder of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, spent a year hiding from police in the Swiss embassy in Baku before Switzerland's foreign minister persuaded authorities to let him leave the country in June. Last week, the government announced plans to increase its control over popular social media like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Skype.

Police arrested several men on Monday for Aliyev's murder, including Javid Huseynov's cousin, Elshan Ismayiolov, the APA news agency reported. A spokesperson for Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan's strongman president, said he was "seriously concerned" by the murder and vowed to supervise the investigation personally.

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    Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71

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