Criminals Seek Revenge, Editors And Reporters Ask Who’s Next
Many major news outlets last week reported yet another attack on a journalist. It came at the beginning of the long Easter holiday. With deadly targeting of media workers seizing attention in recent weeks editors grabbed available details and splashed the headlines. A few days later, the story is a bit more nuanced.
Azeri exile Rahim Namazov and his wife were attacked by one or more gunmen near the southern French city of Toulouse last Friday morning (March 30). His wife succumbed and Mr. Namazov was critically injured, reported local newspaper La Depeche (March 30). Mr. Namazov was identified as “very active on social media” and once worked for Alillar (The Disabled), an Azeri newspaper published by Nagorno-Karabakh conflict victims.
He arrived in France with his wife and two children in 2010 and, maybe, was granted asylum in 2012. AFP (March 30) said that was not the case. Aside from a 2010 interview with Toulouse school of journalism students he was off the radar of French media circles. La Depeche (April 3) confirmed he’d received refugee status and was living on social support. La Depeche truly owns this story.
Recent high-profile murders of journalists, all related to crime and corruption, put this story in the news. Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car-bombing last November; three arrested, all known criminals. Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiance were shot to death in February; no arrests. Two Mexican journalists have been murdered this year; drug gangs implicated, no arrests.
The semi-official Azeri Press Agency (APA) jumped to disavow any suggestion he was involved in journalistic activity. Mr. Namazov “cannot be connected with journalism activity,” said Azerbaijan Press Council chairman Aflatun Amashov to APA (March 31). The Azeri embassy in France issued a similar statement (April 2) saying “the issue is being distorted” as Mr. Namazov is “not a journalist.” The Azeri embassy statement also suggested Mr. Namazov claimed to be a journalist when applying for refugee status in France.
This conflicts somewhat with a statement (July 21, 2001) by the Azeri Journalists Trade Union (JuHi), retrieved from IFEX (International Freedom of Expression Exchange), referring to Mr. Namazov as a “journalist for Alillar” sentenced to six years in prison for “taking part in an illegal Karabakh veterans street rally.” That sentence was commuted to six months detention by the late Azeri president Heydar Aliyev. After his release, Mr. Namazov was off the radar until he arrived in France.
In another unhealthy twist, Rahim Shakinskiy, reported by some to be a pseudonym used by Mr. Namazov and not confirmed, had recently been posting “insults” on social media directed at Chechen (or Georgian) mob-boss Nadir Salifov, also known as Lotu Quli. In December last year the Russian Federation’s internal security service Investigative Committee issued a warrant for Mr. Salifov charging kidnapping for hire. An unconfirmed report from crimerussia.com (March 31) said Mr. Namazov “is infamous under his criminal name” and ran with a crime gang that rivals Mr. Salifov, who is believed to be in Turkey.
Toulouse prosecutor Pierre-Yves Couilleau, who transferred the case to the regional Special Prosecutions Unit, said Mr. Namazov had recently informed authorities of death threats.
“I am really a journalist,” said Mr. Namazov to France 3 TV (April 4). “I was convicted three times for my writings.” He denied “belonging to the mafia” and “authorities” in Azerbaijan are “trying to discredit” him. He has been released from hospital and has round-the-clock police protection.
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Dreadful events, sadly becoming more common, can have a lasting effect on public opinion. Even as tough as they are believed to be, reporters and editors are not immune. The 2015 attack on the Charlie Hebdo Paris office scarred French journalism. There have been others. There is no fortress.
Measuring media freedom is a subjective art. Freedom for one represses another, say critics. Indisputable, though, is death. Where media workers die for their work, mysteriously ordered, we learn that freedom isn’t free.
Those of us living in societies where freedom of the press is a given can easily forget in just how many places in the world such freedoms are still being fought for daily with lives, imprisonment and intimidation. The latest report from WAN-IFRA says that so far this year 56 journalists have been killed, catching up on the 99 killed last year, more than 100 journalists are imprisoned either with no charges or trials or via sham trials with hundreds more forced into exile, and intimidation is on the rise.
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