Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Azerbaijan, notably the case of Rafiq Tagi

Delivered in Plenary - 15th December 2011

Mr President

The tragic case of Rafiq Taqi is, regrettably, symptomatic of the culture of poor human rights in Azerbaijan, which is a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

Taqi, who was a prominent journalist, allegedly published a newspaper piece arguing that the strict adherence of President Aliyev’s regime to Islamic values was damaging any democratic credentials to which it may lay claim. Allegedly as a result of a fatwa issued by a radical Islamist cleric in Iran, Taqi was stabbed to death, most probably by a fanatic, and died four days later.

Until significant international pressure was exerted, the Azeri authorities appeared to be at best ambivalent and at worst unconcerned at Taqi’s murder, with still no clear condemnation and only limited coverage of the investigation of the circumstances surrounding his murder. Up to this point, the Iranian authorities, for their part, have neither condemned the fatwa – which appears to have been an incitement to murder – nor have they shown any sign that anyone suspected of inciting, planning or carrying out the crime on Taqi would be brought to justice.

We welcome the decision, even if it is somewhat belated, to open a criminal inquiry now into the circumstances of Taqi’s death, and we call upon the Azeri authorities to do all within their power to bring to justice the perpetrator, if he or she is apprehended, following a fair trial to international standards. We call upon the Iranian authorities, too, to cooperate fully with the investigation and to provide all the necessary evidence possible to aid it in its course, although I suspect that Tehran will, sadly, not listen to what we have to say in this House.

We are concerned at reports that Azerbaijani authorities have recently used the criminal law to stifle free debate on the issues regarding religion. We feel strongly that Azerbaijan must step up to its legal obligations, as a member of the Council of Europe, to protect human rights and freedom of speech and all the other freedoms that go with it.