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Azerbaijan17 November 2004

Main opposition daily wiped out by heavy fines

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the action of Azerbaijan’s authorities yesterday in freezing the assets of the main opposition daily, Yeni Musavat, thereby preventing it from publishing. The decision was taken on the grounds that the newspaper failed to pay fines and damages totalling some 125,000 euros.

The newspaper’s closure is "the logical outcome of the judicial harassment to which it has been subjected," the organisation said. "It has been strangled by the exorbitant size of the fines, and its disappearance will have dire consequences for diversity of news and information in Azerbaijan."

The newspaper’s financial difficulties began in late 2003 after it was convicted in six legal actions. Among those who sued the newspaper were Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Turkey, Mamed Aliev, the supreme court president’s brother, Rashid Hasanov, and defence minister Safar Abiyev.

At the same time, editor Rauf Arifoglu (who is also vice-president of the opposition party Musavat), has been detained for more than a year. A Baku court on 22 October sentenced him to five years in prison for "disturbing the peace and "refusing to comply" with instructions from the authorities. His lawyer, Samed Panahov, said no evidence was brought against Arifoglu during the trial, which was marred by irregularities.

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