November 28, 2011

Ilham Aliyev
Office of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic
19 Istiqlaliyyat Street
Baku AZ1066
Fax: + 994 12 492 0625

Minister of Internal Affairs

Lt.-Gen. Ramil Usubov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Husu Hajiyev Street 7, 370005 Baku
Fax: + 994 12 492 45 90

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our shock and outrage regarding the death of writer Rafiq Tagi.

According to our information, on November 23, 2011, Rafiq Tagi passed away in the hospital after suffering multiple stab wounds in an attack on November 19, 2011. In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), an hour before his death, Tagi had said, “My condition is difficult and stable … but it is not worsening.” Doctors are reportedly puzzled as to why Tagi died, since they had checked on him just 10 minutes before his death and had seen no reason for concern. Writers who had visited Tagi in the hospital had previously expressed concern at what they considered insufficient security for a patient who had long been the target of death threats.

Rafiq Tagi was violently attacked by two unidentified male assailants as he was returning from work in Baku on November 19, 2011. Tagi suffered six stab wounds, broken ribs, a fractured shoulder blade, and injuries to his stomach and diaphragm. He underwent four hours of emergency surgery to remove his spleen. It was reported that Tagi avoided even more serious injuries by shielding his chest with a book he was carrying at the time.

Although the motive for the attack remains unconfirmed, Tagi had said that he thought the attack could have been a result of his November 10 article entitled, “Iran and the Inevitability of Globalization,” in which he criticized the Iranian regime and described threats made by Iran against Azerbaijan as “ridiculous.”

Rafiq Tagi is an Honorary Member of several PEN centers. He was previously arrested in November 2006 for his article, “Europe and Us,” published in the newspaper Sanat, for which he was charged with insulting the Prophet Mohammad. Following the publication of the article, Grand Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani of Iran issued a fatwa calling for Tagi’s death. He was sentenced to three years in prison under Article 283 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code for “inciting national, racial and religious enmity.” Tagi was granted amnesty on December 28, 2007, following significant international pressure.

PEN American Center condemns the violent attack on Rafiq Tagi, and expresses concern that Tagi may have been killed as a result of his legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Azerbaijan is a state party. We therefore call for a full and impartial investigation into the attack, examining the possibility that it may have been carried out in relation to his legitimate work as a journalist.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Yashar T. Aliyev
Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the U.S.
2741 34th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 337-5911

>> Return to Rapid Action