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Azerbaijan28 October 2003

Editor of main opposition daily arrested

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a two-week-old crackdown on the Azerbaijani press in which the latest development was the arrest yesterday of Rauf Arifoglu, editor in chief of the opposition daily Yeni Musavat, who was placed in custody for three months.

The organisation fears that the obstacles to the publication and distribution of opposition newspapers, police violence, arrests and of journalists and messages of hate towards them in the government news media since the 15 October presidential elections are just the start of a campaign to silence the opposition press for good.

Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about Arifoglu’s arrest and called on the authorities to release him at once and put an end to the harassment of journalists.

Arifoglu, who is also vice-president of the opposition party Musavat, was summoned yesterday evening to the central prosecutor’s office. After being questioned for four hours, he was taken before the Nasimi district court in Baku which ordered him placed in custody for three months.

He is accused of organising demonstrations following the presidential elections, in which the declared winner is Prime Minister Ilham Aliev, the son of outgoing President Heidar Aliev. Both the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have questioned the validity of the elections.

He has been charged with disturbing the peace under article 220.1 of the criminal code and obstructing justice under article 315.2 of the criminal code, and faces a prison sentence. He previously took refuge in the Norwegian embassy in Baku from 18-21 October for fear of being arrested. He left the embassy after negotiations between western diplomats and Ilham Aliev

He had narrowly avoided being arrested on 17 October, but interior minister Ramil Usubov said the same day that Arifoglu was in no danger and no one would try to arrest him or obstruct his newspaper’s activities.

Access to the offices of Yeni Musavat, which are in the same building as the Musavat party, have been blocked by police since 16 October. The journalists have been forced to work elsewhere, most of them in the offices of the newspaper Azadliq.

Parliamentarian Omaliya Panakhova said at a press conference on 26 October that journalists who criticise the government should be eliminated. The ruling party’s newspaper, Yeni Azerbaijan, has for several days been running articles insulting journalists who do not support the government.

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