BAKU, Azerbaijan, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- An Azerbaijan journalist died after being beaten by presumed soccer fans after he criticized a soccer player for alleged insults made during and after a heated soccer match.
Rasim Aliyev, 30, died Sunday in a hospital in Baku after being beaten by a group of men who reached out to him via Facebook after an aggressive soccer match on Aug. 6 between Cyprus and Azerbaijan. Javid Huseynov, a player on the team from Azerbaijan, had waved a Turkish flag after beating the Cyprus team Apollon Limassol. When a Cypriot journalist later asked him about the flag waving, Huseynov responded with what Aliyev described as an offensive gesture, partially captured on video.
Aliyev wrote on Facebook that Huseynov was behaving inappropriately and that he should not play future matches in Europe. His Facebook post about this led to a contact from someone who claimed to be Huseynov's cousin.
In video recorded from his hospital bed before he died, Aliyev said the man first called, yelling and cursing at him. Then he called a second time, claiming to be the player's cousin and wishing to meet to have tea and discuss the incident, Aliyev said. Aliyev said he agreed and was attacked by several people as he reached out to shake the hand of the man who called him.
Since the incident, Azerbaijan's Gabala team has suspended Huseynov. The head of Azerbaijan's Press Council, Aflatun Amasov, said that Aliyev's death should not be politicized until an investigation into the crime is compete.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev (no relation) said that that the incident marks a threat to freedom of speech, which U.S.-based organization Freedom House says is a difficult issue in Azerbaijan. The organization adds that authorities in the country have imprisoned or exercised violence against journalists who express dissenting opinions. A widely circulated photo of Aliyev shows him being punched in the face by a hulking police officer while he was covering an opposition protest.
Azerbaijan 162 of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.