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Azerbaijan21 March 2005

Rauf Arifoglu finally released

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release of journalist and opposition leader Rauf Arifoglu after 18 months in prison. He was among 114 prisoners whose pardon by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was announced on 20 March 2005.

Arifoglu, editor of opposition daily Yeni Musavat and vice-president of the opposition party Musavat, was among 53 "political prisoners" who appeared on a list produced by the Council of Europe last week.

"One can only celebrate the fact that there are no longer any journalists imprisoned in Azerbaijan", the worldwide press freedom organisation said. But it said, "The Council of Europe should continue to apply pressure on the Azeri authorities to achieve a lasting improvement in press freedom.

"The murder of Elmar Husseynov, editor of the opposition weekly Monitor, on 2 March 2005, has still not been solved," it added.

Arifoglu, who was accused of organising riots that shook the country following contested presidential elections on 15 October 2003, was arrested on 27 October 2003 and held since in Bailov Prison in the capital Baku. He began a hunger strike on 9 February 2004 in protest at his imprisonment but called it off ten days later for medical reasons.

Reporters Without Borders had urged the authorities to free Arifoglu during a visit to Baku in December 2003.

The Council of Europe on 17 March called on President Aliyev to pardon Azeri political prisoners, saying legislative elections in November 2005 would only be free and fair if opposition leaders were released.




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