Several human rights groups have called on authorities in Azerbaijan to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the murder of journalist Rasim Aliyev.
Aliyev, who worked for the ANN.az website, died on Sunday in a Baku hospital after he was severely beaten the previous day by a group of people.
Officials have connected the attack to a Facebook post in which Aliyev had criticised a local football player’s celebration when his team beat Cypriot side
Apollon Limassol last Thursday, angering his relatives.
Gabala won the game 1-0, advancing to the next stage of the Europa League. The first leg, played in Larnaca a week earlier, ended in a 1-1 draw.
Aliyev had criticised the behaviour of Gabala striker Javid Huseynov who waved a Turkish flag after the August 6 match and allegedly made an offensive gesture at a journalist, reports said.
Aliyev wrote that Huseynov “did not know how to behave” and should not play in matches in Europe.
Gabala expressed regret over the incident, adding that Huseynov has been dropped from the first team until the case was cleared.
On Tuesday, several media outlets in Cyprus reported that Huseynov has been arrested, but this has not been confirmed.
According to one of the reports, Huseynov and his cousin were arrested on suspicion of covering up a crime, while others were arrested over the beating. They will reportedly be jailed for three months during the ongoing investigation.
But human rights watchdogs suspect Aliyev’s killing could be connected to a series of photos he had posted online showing police brutality and social discontent.
Twelve human rights organisations, including the Sport for Rights coalition, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Index on Censorship, International Media Support and PEN American Centre, supported the appeal.
“As Rasim Aliyev’s murder shows, critical voices are at greater risk now than ever before,” Sport for Rights said in a statement.
“The international community must act now to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its human rights obligations and promote much-needed reforms in the country.”
Azerbaijan, ruled by President Ilham Aliyev since he succeeded his father in 2003, has been courted by Western countries because of its role as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe.
However, various European bodies and human rights groups have accused Aliyev of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents, including journalists, charges Baku denies.
“The president of Azerbaijan rates this incident as a threat to the freedom of speech and information, free activity of the mass media in the country,” Ali Hasanov, the president’s aide for public and political affairs, said.