Huseynov: Five Months On, Case Far from Closed
More than five months after the death of journalist Elmar Huseynov, the editor's widow and members of a public watchdog group formed to monitor the state investigation into Huseynov's death claim that the government is deliberately dragging its feet on solving the case. The government points a finger at Georgia for refusing to extradite two prime suspects, both Georgian citizens, to Azerbaijan for prosecution. Meanwhile, as the investigation continues, Huseynov's death has become a prominent lightening rod for Azerbaijan's opposition as it prepares for parliamentary elections this November.
The Public Investigation Group (PIG), a watchdog organization established by a group of lawyers and friends of Huseynov to monitor the state investigation, say they have serious complaints about how the inquiry into the 38-year-old editor's March 1, 2005 death is being handled. Shahbaz Khuduoglu, a friend of Elmar Huseynov and member of PIG, says that the group has evidence of intentional delay.
"The government did not take any serious steps to find suspects, while we do not know why the state investigation suspects [certain] people in the assassination and ignores other names," Khuduoglu said. The Ministry of National Security, responsible for the investigation, named Tahir Khubanov and Teymuraz Aliyev, both Georgian citizens and ethnic Azerbaijanis, after studying video tapes recorded by metro stations' and shops' security services on the eve of the March 2 assassination. According to information released to PIG by state investigators, the pair allegedly returned to Georgia on March 2.
The Azerbaijani government sent two investigators to Georgia to track the suspects, but the Georgian government, however, has refused to extradite the two men. Under Georgian law, citizens cannot be extradited for prosecution. The office of the Georgian general prosecutor has stated that the pair will be arrested only if the Azerbaijani government hands over compelling evidence of their guilt. In the meantime, a wanted notice for the two men has been posted by Interpol at the request of Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies.
"It is like a vicious circle," commented Khuduoglu. "The Georgian government will not arrest the suspects until they will get evidence, and the Azerbaijani authorities fail to give evidence and find the person who ordered the murder, because there are no people to question." National Security Ministry spokesman Arif Babayev stated that the government can only find the person who ordered Huseynov's murder after the perpetrators are arrested. PIG has demanded that all government officials criticized in Huseynov's pro-opposition Monitor magazine be questioned by investigators. As yet, there has been no official government response to the demand.
The magazine editor's widow Rushana Huseynova, now a frequent guest at opposition rallies, says that she is confident that the Azerbaijani leadership already knows who murdered her husband. "I remain sure that someone among the authorities did order the assassination of my husband. I am more than sure that President Ilham Aliyev knows who ordered the assassination," said Huseynova. "He promised that the killer would be found within 40 days after the assassination. But [five] months have passed and we have nothing so far. The president should keep his promises."
The government maintains that it is doing its best in pursuing Huseynov's killers. Huseynov was shot dead in the stairwell of his apartment building on March 2, 2005. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The investigation, initially launched by the office of the state general prosecutor under President Aliyev's direct supervision, was later transferred to the Ministry of National Security . Turkish and American investigators were initially involved in the investigation, but never released public statements about the results of their work.
Both Huseynova and PIG report that they have received little information about the investigation since the national security ministry took charge in April. National Security Minister Eldar Mahmudov placed a condition of non-disclosure on information about the investigation provided in a July 14 meeting to Aflatun Amashev, head of the Press Council, Arif Aliyev, chairman of the Yeni Nesil Journalist Union and Mehman Aliyev, director of Turan News Agency. Mamudov had mentioned the existence of other suspects, Aliyev told EurasiaNet, but the union head declined to elaborate further.
So far, Turgay Bayramov, an Azerbaijani citizen and cousin of Teymuraz Aliyev, is the only person who has been sentenced in connection with Elmar Huseynov's murder. In late July, Bayramov received two years of imprisonment for allegedly using forged documents to buy mobile phones for Khubanov and Aliyev. The sentence was the maximum allowable under Azerbaijan's criminal code.
Namizad Safarov, Bayramov's defense attorney, told EurasiaNet that three other individuals aside from Aliyev and Khubanov had approached his client for help acquiring cell phones with forged documents. Two of the individuals were Georgian males, he said, and one was a Kurdish man called Seko. Safarov could not identify the Georgians by name. State investigators have not investigated this report, according to PIG.
Nonetheless, Yeni Nesi Journalist Union's Aliyev stated that the meeting with Mamudov conveyed the impression that progress is being made. "We had a feeling that the ministry has had some success in the investigation, but what happened after the meeting raises more doubts," Aliyev said. Both the ministry and Interpol have refused to provide photos of the suspects to local media to assist in the search, he claimed. The websites of Interpol and Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies also make no mention of Khubanov and Aliyev.
Rushana Huseynova claims that this lack of information sparks serious doubts about the procedures being used to locate and arrest the suspects. "They (the government) claim that these two suspects are wanted via Interpol. Maybe Khubanov and Aliyev are wanted all over the world, but not in Azerbaijan," Huseynova said.
Meanwhile, Huseynov's death remains a constant matter for discussion at opposition rallies, political conferences, and meetings between authorities and the representatives of various international organizations.
During a July 21 ceremony for commemorating the 130th anniversary of the Azerbaijani press, President Aliyev noted that Huseynov's death "is a shock to Azerbaijan's democratic development. We all should make an effort [to solve] the crime sooner and [to arraign] the murderers," the state news agency AzerTag reported him as saying.
At his July 14 meeting with press representatives, National Security Minister Eldar Mahmudov stated that investigators have questioned more than 450 people, conducted 127 inspections and ordered 17 analyses of material evidence. Investigations conducted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation "once again proved the strict accuracy of the investigation's results," AzerTag reported the minister as saying. Mahmudov dismissed as "senseless" and "absurd" allegations that dismiss the investigative group's work, adding that "there are certain groups [who] are trying to use the crime [for] political interests."
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