A veteran freelance reporter and human rights activist was rushed to a hospital after several unidentified assailants beat him severely on Aug. 21 at his office in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan.
Ilgar Nasibov, who works for U.S.-backed Radio Free Europe, the Azeri news agency Turan, and a pro-democracy non-profit agency, was found unconscious in a pool of blood after a group of people entered the democracy group's office, assaulted him and ransacked the office.
Nasibov suffered severe head trauma, massive bleeding, several broken ribs and a fractured nose, according to the advocacy organization Reporters without Borders. The Azeri news organization Azadlik reported that Nasibov was transferred on Aug. 30 to a hospital in Van, Turkey, about 185 miles
His wife and fellow journalist, Malahat Nasibova told Azerbaijan's Meydan TV that she suspects local staff from the Ministry of Interior are responsible for her husband’s beating. “His face and body was covered with blood,” she said. “I cannot recognize his face.”
The attack comes amidst a widening crackdown on the press and civil society in the Central Asian nation by President Ilham Aliyev's government. In the past two years, at least least 38 political dissidents, journalists, bloggers, and human rights activists have been jailed or threatened with unfounded criminal charges, according to Human Rights Watch.
Nasibov and Nasibova are no exception.
While conducting an interview in 2008 for Radio Free Europe, the two were beaten and their equipment crushed by authorities when they tried to interview people about the possibility of a new ban prohibiting two or more people from gathering in a public space.
Several press freedom and human rights groups released statements asking for a swift and transparent investigation.
“This criminal act has an enormous chilling effect on the free expression and free media and it could inspire future crimes against members of the media,” said Dunja Mijatović, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's representative for media freedom, in a statement.
Nakhchivan, an exclave of Azerbaijan surrounded by Armenia, is Nasibov’s hometown, according to his Facebook page. Radio Free Europe reports that the support center where he was working at the time of the attack, is the only rights organization operating in the region.
Just eight days after the attack on Nasibov, authorities arrested Azadliq reporter Seymur Hazi on charges of hooliganism, according to Radio Free Europe.
Freedom House president David J. Kramer said “President Ilham Aliyev [Azerbaijan’s president] is entirely wrong if he believes his government can go after its critics without consequences while the world’s attention is focused on other hot spots."