Before dying from his injuries on Sunday, Rasim Aliyev reportedly told Azerbaijan's independent Meydan TV
that he was attacked by fans of an Azerbaijani soccer player he had criticized on his Facebook page.
The Sport for Rights group -- a coalition of NGOs set up to highlight concerns over freedom of expression ahead of Azerbaijan's hosting in June of the inaugural European Games -- said it was alarmed and deeply saddened by Aliyev's death.
"Aliyev's murder is the latest incident in a vicious cycle of violence against journalists in Azerbaijan," it said on its Facebook page
. "Over the past decade, there have been hundreds of attacks against journalists in the country, including the murders of Elmar Huseynov in 2005 and Rafig Tagi in 2011, which remain unsolved."
It called for the Azerbaijani authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the attack on Aliyev and bring those behind it to justice.
Soccer club suspends player
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a supporter of the Sport for Rights group, similarly called on the Azerbaijani authorities to carry out an "efficient and transparent investigation" into the attack and ensure justice is served.
Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry said an investigation had been opened into the case and that it was under the close eye of the prosecutor general, Radio Free Europe reported
Azerbaijani soccer club Gabala said it was disappointed
that its player Javid Huseynov had been mentioned in connection with Aliyev's death, and that it was opposed to aggression on or off the field. Huseynov, while not implicated by Aliyev, will not be playing in the first team while the issue is resolved, Gabala's statement said.
Minister says press is free
At the end of July, the Sport for Rights coalition published a statement
calling for the international community to put pressure on Azerbaijan's government over what it described as a "year of unprecedented repression in Azerbaijan."
It accused the authorities of "aggressively" pursuing and locking up journalists and human rights activists who have been working to defend those already targeted for expressing critical opinions.
Rights group Human Rights Watch has also accused the Azerbaijani government of escalating its efforts to stifle dissent
But Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan's minister of youth and sports, told CNN ahead of the European Games that there were "no journalists sitting in prison" and dismissed criticisms about media freedom.
"We have our open, opposition press. We have a lot of different newspapers and magazine opposition, we have open Internet. How do we have so many newspapers, if they are all in prison?" he asked.