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Azerbaijan21 July 2004

Reporters Without Borders urges release of opposition journalist imprisoned for nine months

Reporters Without Borders marked Azerbaijan’s National Press Day on 22 July by calling for the release of a newspaper editor who has spent the last nine months in jail.

Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the country’s main opposition daily Yeni Musavat and vice president of the opposition party Musavat, has been imprisoned in the capital Baku since 27 October 2003.

"This unjustified temporary detention has gone on too long," said the international press freedom organisation. "Freeing Rauf Arifoglu and dropping charges against him would be the best way for the authorities to mark National Press Day.

"This important gesture would demonstrate that the government really wants to respect its commitments to the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)", said Reporters Without Borders.

The trial of Arifoglu, along with that of six other opposition leaders opened on 7 May 2004. He was accused of organising rioting that shook the country after contested presidential elections on 15 October 2003. He was accused of "disturbing public order" and "refusal to comply". He risks a seven-year jail sentence.

His lawyer, Samed Panahov, has spoken out against irregularities in the trial and lack of evidence against his client. He has said that the journalist’s state of health has deteriorated in prison - he suffers from a stomach ulcer - after being on hunger strike for ten days.

Reporters Without Borders has been calling since October 2003 for Arifoglu to be bailed while awaiting the outcome of his trial. The OSCE has done the same but also in vain. On the contrary, the prosecutor-general’s office has several times extended Arifoglu’s period in custody.

President Ilham Aliyev pardoned 160 prisoners on 29 December, of whom one third were political detainees. The European Union presidency hailed this gesture but nevertheless expressed concern for those arrested following the 15-16 October disturbances. It called for them to be quickly and fairly tried or released.

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