PEN International is shocked to learn of the death of Rafiq Tagi, an Azerbaijani writer and longstanding critic of political Islam. The 61-year-old writer died after suffering multiple stab wounds in an attack in the Azerbaijani capital on November 19. He had long been receiving death threats for his criticism of Iran. He died in the hospital. PEN sends its condolences to Tagi’s family and colleagues, and urges the Azerbaijani authorities to do its utmost to find Tagi’s killers and bring them to justice.

Background Information

Doctors are reported to be puzzled as to why Tagi died when, just a short while before, he was apparently making a good recovery after emergency surgery. In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) just an hour before he died, Tagi said, “My condition is difficult and stable … but it is not worsening.” Doctors say that they checked on their patient just 10 minutes before he died and had seen no reason for concern. Writers who had visited Tagi had earlier expressed concern at what they saw as insufficient security for a patient who had been the target of death threats.
In another interview with RFE/RL, from his hospital bed two days after the assault, Tagi said that he thought that the attack could have been linked to an article published on the broadcaster’s Azerbaijani service, entitled, “Iran and the Inevitability of Globalization." RFE/RL reports that Tagi had criticized Iran for its attempts to export the Islamic revolution into Azerbaijan and ridiculed Tehran’s threats against Azerbaijan, which Iran sees as being overly close to the USA and Israel.
Rafiq Tagi first came to PEN’s attention when he was arrested on November 1, 2006, for an article comparing European and Islamic traditions. The piece, entitled, “Europe and Us,” suggested that Islam had hindered progress in Muslim states such as Azerbaijan. The article led to outrage among Muslim conservative groups and the subsequent arrest of Tagi and Samir Sadagatoglu, the editor of the newspaper Sanat, in which the article was published. They were charged under Article 283 of the Azerbaijani criminal code with inciting national, racial, and religious enmity. Tagi was sentenced to three years in prison in 2007 but was freed under a presidential amnesty later that year.
Tagi at the time strongly denied that this article had insulted Islam. However, it sparked protests not only in Azerbaijan, but also in neighboring Iran, and by late November, Tagi’s situation deteriorated even further when the Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani, based in Iran, issued a fatwa (religious decree) ordering that the two men be executed. Yet not all Azerbaijani Muslims supported the fatwa. Muslim groups that supported Tagi’s right to express his views held counter demonstrations and added their concern about the undue power of conservative religious groups over the country’s affairs. The Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s office made clear its opposition to the death threats in a press statement which said, “We live in a constitutional state and all issues should be solved by law,” adding that the death threats were “unacceptable,” and that police protection had been provided to the two men and their families. Tagi later joked in an interview with Index on Censorship’s Natasha Schmidt that the Azerbaijani government had had him arrested to “save his life.” The death threats, however, never ceased.
A courageous, and by all accounts, humorous man, Tagi was a controversial figure, writing articles that frequently clashed with public opinion, and even turning his ire on fellow writers, such as Samed Vurgun, Azerbaijan’s leading poet and chair of the Azerbaijan Writers Union.

Write A Letter

  • Calling for an immediate and impartial investigation into the death of Rafiq Tagi and calling for those responsible for the violent attack to be brought to justice;
  • Expressing concerns that Tagi may have been killed as a result of his legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to do their utmost to ensure the protection of writers facing persecution as a result of their work.

Send Your Letter To

Ilham Aliyev
Office of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic
19 Istiqlaliyyat Street
Baku AZ1066
Fax: + 994 12 492 06 25

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

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Azerbaijan in your country if possible.