By Karl Rahder
In a shocking incident, independent journalist Rafig Tagi was stabbed repeatedly today in Baku, according to this RFE/RL report.
Tagi is best known for his thought piece entitled “Europe and Us,” published in 2007 in the Sanat newspaper. In the article, Tagi compared modern Muslim societies to their European counterparts, and argued that Islam had hindered social and political development.
As I wrote at the time of Tagi and his editor, “[T]his sort of reflective social commentary might be the norm in the West, [but] the outcry from some quarters in secular, Shi’ite Azerbaijan was shrill, with ultra-conservative Muslims in the village of Nadaran calling for the two men’s deaths and the public prosecutor bringing criminal charges against them.”
The criminal charges were “inciting religious hatred,” and Tagi and Samir Sadagatoglu, his editor, were convicted quickly, sentenced to four year and three year terms (respectively) in prison, and locked up.
Meanwhile, an Iranian ayatollah issued a fatwa calling for the two men’s deaths and another cleric in Tabriz reportedly offered his house to anyone who assassinated Tagi and Sadagatoglu.
Here’s a chilling quote at the time from the ayatollah’s web site: “it is necessary for every individual who has an access to him to kill him. The person in charge of the […] newspaper, who published such thoughts and beliefs consciously and knowingly, should be dealt with in the same manner.”
Today, Tagi was stabbed in the back and neck, according to his family. The RFE story says that the doctor has indicated that the wounds are not life threatening.
Talking to Tagi has been a goal of mine since his imprisonment and early release at the end of 2007. His case was disturbingly
similar to that of Salman Rushdie, and the English branch of PEN, among others, took up his cause at the time. And now I want to meet him more than ever. He’s a brave man, and the road he has chosen to walk upon is dangerous and lonely.
It’s unclear from the RFE article how many attackers were involved or exactly what the circumstances were.
Don’t expect a major effort by the police to track down those responsible. Tagi’s imprisonment in 2007 was no doubt thought necessary by the government due to the hyper-sensitive nature of his writing, but my guess is that unlike some opposition figures, Tagi was considered a minor irritant. It’s hard to imagine that Zakir Qaralov, the prosecutor general, or President Aliyev were in any way offended or shocked by Tagi’s article. Tagi and his editor would have been forgotten except for a small but extremist segment of the religious community that had to be placated. Their imprisonment was the pound of flesh demanded and received.
* Karl Rahder is the South Caucasus correspondent for ISN Security Watch. This article was first posted at the Foreign Policy Blogs.