Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rafiq Tagi Goes on Trial

On March 19th, Azerbaijani journalist Rafiq Tagi and his editor, Samir Sadaqatoglu, went on trial for a November article he wrote that criticized the impact of Islam on Azerbaijani society. This Associated Press article offers further details:

Tagi's November article in the small newspaper Senet, edited by Huseinov, asserted that Islam has suffocated people, pulled them away from freedom and hindered humanity's development, and said the Prophet Muhammad created problems for Eastern countries.

The article sparked angry protests _ including calls for Tagi's death _ in a village near Baku whose conservative Muslim community has clashed with the authoritarian government. The case has also deepened concerns about freedom of speech in the oil-rich country.

Tagi, who was brought into the court in handcuffs, said he committed no crime.

"My article _ this was purely artistic, a literary discussion and for words one must only answer with words. It is illegal to imprison someone for their convictions," he told the court.

The AP article does a good job of pointing out the Azeri regime's hostility towards independent media. What the piece doesn't mention is the role of Iran in the Tagi affair. The Azeri Islamists who made an issue of his essay are sponsored by Iran, and three Iranian ayatollahs issued fatwas demanding that Tagi and Sadaqatoglu be murdered.

For the "crime" of writing and publishing an essay critical of Islam, Tagi and Sadaqatoglu face up to five years in prison. The Azeri regime may think that it can appease the Islamists by this step. If so, it is wrong. In the meantime, it is imperative that the US government and human rights organizations do everything they can to help Tagi and Sadaqatoglu.


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