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Azerbaijan21 October 2003

Three journalists held - Police bar access to main opposition newspaper

Reporters Without Borders today criticised the Azerbaijani authorities for continuing to hold three journalists and occupy the offices of the leading opposition daily, Yeni Musavat.

It was confirmed today that Azer Garachenli, a correspondent for the weekly Avropa, is one of the journalists being held. His detention had repeatedly been denied by the interior ministry although the TV station ANS filmed his arrest by masked members of the special police forces on 16 October in Baku.

It has now been established that Garachenli has been sentenced to 15 days in prison although the reasons for this sentence are still unknown. An appeal hearing is to be heard soon.

"How is it possible that the police arrest a journalist and the interior ministry insists there was no such arrest for several days," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said, calling for an investigation into the chaotic functioning of the police and the abuses of the past six days towards the press.

He also voiced the organisation’s continuing concern about the fate of all three journalists being held and the obstruction and harassment of Yen Musavat and its editor, Rauf Arifoglu. "We urge the authorities to release these three journalists at once, to vacate the offices of Yen Musavat and to stop obstructing the opposition news media’s coverage of the ongoing events."

The other two journalists being held are Zabil Mugabiloglu and Jehyun Askerli. Mugabiloglu, a political reporter with the pro-government daily 525è, was arrested by police at the newspaper’s headquarters. He was taken to the court in the Yasamal district of Baku and was sentenced to 15 days in prison for disturbing the peace.

Askerli, a correspondent in Geychay (west of Baku) for the daily Milliyet and a member of the opposition Popular Front party, was detained on 19 October. It is not known why he was arrested or where he is being held.

Police have been blocking access to Yeni Musavat, which is located in the same building as the opposition party Musavat, since the morning of 16 October. The newspaper’s journalists have been forced to work elsewhere, above all in the offices of the newspaper Azadliq.

Arifoglu, Yeni Musavat’s editor, took refuge in the Norwegian embassy in Baku from 18 October until today because he feared arrest. He left the embassy today after negotiations between western diplomats and Prime Minister Ilham Aliev, winner of the 15 October presidential elections.

Emin Huseynov, a correspondent for the news agency Turan, and Nabi Alishov, a correspondent for the independent daily Khurriyet, who were among the victims of police violence on 15 and 16 October, are both still hospitalised with head injuries.

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