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Azerbaijani Journalist Targeted By Fatwa Dies After Stabbing Attack

Azerbaijan writer Rafiq Tagi in RFE/RL's Baku studios (file photo)
Azerbaijan writer Rafiq Tagi in RFE/RL's Baku studios (file photo)
BAKU -- Azerbaijani writer and journalist Rafiq Tagi has died, four days after he was stabbed multiple times in a late-night attack in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

Tagi, 61, a critic of the Azerbaijani government, Iran, and political Islam, died in the Baku hospital where he had been treated following the November 19 attack.

Rasim Karadzha, a friend of Tagi's and editor of the "Alatoran" literary journal, informed RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service that Tagi died about 3 p.m. on November 23.

Tagi underwent four hours of surgery after the attack and had his spleen removed, but he had been reported to be in satisfactory condition.

Tagi spoke with RFE/RL about an hour before his death and said that he was recovering well.

"My condition is difficult and stable," he said. "It's stable and difficult, but it's not worsening."

WATCH: Rafiq Tagi spoke to RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent Maarif Chingizolgu just an hour before he died.
Final Interview With Azeri Writer Rafiq Tagi
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0:00 0:01:18 0:00

Nizameddin Asgarov, one of the doctors who operated on Tagi, told RFE/RL it was likely Tagi choked.

"He was a normal patient. We assume he died of a vomit mass -- that he choked on this mass," he said. "When he had to vomit, the water went to his windpipe. We cannot find any other reason for his death."

Asgarov said that doctors checked on Tagi less than 10 minutes before he died and he was stable.

Earlier, some of the writer's friends had complained about a lack of security at the hospital and urged the government to take measures, but Tagi told RFE/RL that he did not feel in danger.

Iran Denies Role

Tagi was stabbed seven times outside his Baku home late on November 19 by two unidentified assailants.

In comments to RFE/RL on November 21, Tagi said the attack might have been linked to an article he published earlier this month on the website of RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service titled "Iran and the Inevitability of Globalization" (here in Azerbaijani).

In the article he sharply criticized the Iranian government and ridiculed Tehran's threats against Azerbaijan.

In 2007, a district court in Baku sentenced Tagi to three years in jail for an article published in 2006 that was deemed to be critical of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. He was granted a presidential pardon later that year.

That article prompted an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani, to place a fatwa on Tagi, calling for his death.

The Iranian Embassy in Baku on November 22 issued a statement denying any Iranian involvement in the attack on Tagi.

"We refute the groundless claims, at odds with reality, spread by some persons and media outlets of the Azerbaijan Republic linking the attempt on Rafiq Tagi's life to the Islamic Republic of Iran," the statement read.

The Azerbaijan authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the attack on Tagi.

The media-rights group Reporters Without Borders expressed its shock over Tagi's death, and urged investigators "to seriously consider the possibility that the attack was linked to his work as a journalist."

Azerbaijani blogger Ali Novruzov, speaking to RFE/RL at a conference in Brussels, said he was certain that Tagi was killed because of his writings and that it was crucial for the country that the case be investigated quickly and the perpetrators punished.

"There is one issue that I'm sure of -- he was stabbed to death because of his writing, of expressing his opinions, of his journalistic activities, of his criticisms," Novruzov said. "Just imagine that in the 21st century, in a country that aspires to be modern, a guy is stabbed for his opinions, for his thinking."

Novruzov said Tagi's passing was a major blow to critical thinking in his country. "Rafiq Tagi was a person that everybody in Azerbaijan knows -- for bad or for good -- but everybody is -- was -- aware of his existence, of his writings.

"It is not just an ordinary man stabbed in the street. It is somebody whose opinion was listened to."

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a statement that it was “shocked” to learn of Tagi’s death and urged investigators to “seriously consider the possibility that the attack was linked to his work as a journalist.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists issued a similar statement.

Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s representative on freedom of the media, said, “I hope the Azerbaijani authorities will swiftly bring the investigation to a conclusive end.”

In a statement, she also referenced the 2005 murder of Azerbaijani newspaper editor Elmar Huseynov, which remains unsolved.

“Attacks on journalists and writers are attacks on freedom of the media and freedom of expression. These crimes must be prosecuted with utmost resolution for the sake of democracy,” she said.

Based on RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service reports. Read and watch more on Rafiq Tagi's death in Azeri here and here
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