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Azerbaijan6 January 2005

Main opposition daily forced to close

Reporters Without Borders fiercely condemned government "hounding" of the country’s main opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat that has suffered such heavy fines it will almost certainly have to close in the next few days.

The paper was dealt what appeared to be the fatal blow on 4 January when it was handed down fines totally nearly 125,000 euros at the end of six legal cases brought by figures close to the government.

"Government hounding of Yeni Musavat was prompted by a determination to silence this opposition newspaper," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "We call on the legal authorities to reconsider this decision that strikes a serious blow at pluralism of news and information in Azerbaijan."

The six cases brought against the daily included those brought by the Azerbaijani ambassador in Turkey, Mamed Aliev, Defence Minister Safar Abiyev and the brother of the president of the Supreme Court, Rashid Hasanov. As the paper’s bank accounts have been frozen since 16 November 2004, the courts, on 4 January 2005, ordered the seizure of the proceeds of subscriptions from distributors Gaya, Gasid and Metbua Yayimi.

This ruling runs counter to a law that only allows the freezing of the daily’s own accounts. "They have just dealt us the death-blow", Habil Abbasoglu, editor of Yeni Musavat, said on 5 January.

Elsewhere, four other opposition dailies, Azadlig, Babi Habar, Bizim Yol and Football +, were banned from sale on underground rail stations on 30 December. Yeni Musavat had already been subjected to the same ban for the past year.

The Baku government has clearly stated its determination to silence all dissident voices. On 28 December, the president’s uncle, Jalal Aliev, told parliament that he intended to step up the struggle against opposition newspapers.

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