Azerbaijan journalist dies after attack over Facebook comments

An Azerbaijani journalist has died after being attacked following Facebook comments about the captain of Qabala FK, Javid Huseynov.

Rasim Aliyev, who worked for the ann.az news website, died of his injuries on Sunday morning in a Baku hospital, having been severely beaten on Saturday evening.

Huseynov's cousin Elshan Ismailov, 21, who represents the AZAL Baku reserve team and was a former under-19 international, turned himself over to police according to local media. The BBC, however, reported that Azeri security services could not confirm that he had been detained.

Aliyev had criticised Huseynov -- a major star of the Azerbaijan national team -- after the striker celebrated a 1-0 win (which saw them win the tie 2-1 on aggregate) over Cypriot side Apollon Limassol in the Europa League qualifiers last week by raising a flag of Turkey.

Huseynov was confronted by journalists about his actions in the mixed zone after the game, but the striker replied aggressively saying "Turks are my friends" and made a rude gesture.

Following the incident, Aliyev posted a statement on his Facebook page on Friday which read: "I don't want us represented in Europe by such an amoral and rude player who cannot control himself."

The journalist then posted another update saying that he had been contacted by Huseynov, who tried to explain himself. It read: "Huseynov told me that his hand gestures were not abusive, but rather expressed the friendship between Turkey and Azerbaijan."

However, Aliyev then revealed to the Turan news agency that a man purporting to be a member of Huseynov's family called him.

"He was talking normally and offered me a cup of tea as a sign of making peace. I said 'I don't want to,' but he insisted. They came over and I went to meet them alone," Aliyev said from his bed on Saturday evening.

"When I offered him my hand to greet him, they attacked me from behind and started to hit me. There were six or seven of them, I didn't see their faces. They were hitting all over my body. I dropped my phone and wallet, and they took them before running away in different directions."

Aliyev was hospitalised with several fractured ribs and he died from internal bleeding on Sunday morning.

Ismailov was arrested on Sunday along with other suspects who the police have not named and Qabala FK have suspended Huseynov, 27, until the investigation is over.

They released a statement which read: "Rasim Aliyev's death deeply saddened everyone at our club. Nobody has a right to threaten and assault people. The club has always followed these principles. We are very sorry to see Huseynov's name mentioned regarding this incident. Even though he is a very important player to our team, we decided to suspend him until things become clear."

Huseynov, who has not been charged with anything, also released a statement on his Facebook page claiming his innocence.

"I am very sorry about Rasim Aliyev's death," he wrote. "People say that my friends killed him, but that is not the case. I would never allow anyone to kill someone because of me.

"I had a decent Facebook chat with Aliyev, and it ended warmly. Now people say that I am a murderer, but I am exactly the same person as before. People want to blame me without proof. Journalists should only report the truth. Unfortunately, few of them report the truth."

The head of Azerbaijan's press council, Aflatun Amasov, told Baku-based APA news agency that Aliyev's death "must not be politicised" and added: "The investigation is not finished yet. Therefore, it is not right to explain the incident from the point of view of freedom of speech and the media."

Meanwhile Azerbaijan president, Ilham Aliyev, said he was "seriously concerned" by the incident, calling it a "threat to freedom of speech" and Ali Hasanov, the president's aide for public and political affairs, told APA on Monday: "The president of Azerbaijan rates this incident as a threat to the freedom of speech and information, free activity of the mass media in the country."

Qabala FK, formerly coached by Arsenal legend Tony Adams, have been drawn against Panathinaikos in the playoff round of UEFA Europa League qualifiers.

Information from Michael Yokhin was used in this report.