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Azerbaijan22 January 2004

Reporters Without Borders urges French President Jacques Chirac to raise case of jailed journalist with visiting Azerbaijan president

Reporters Without Borders urged French President Jacques Chirac to raise the case of a prominent jailed editor to try to obtain his release, during an official visit by President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliev, on 22-23 January.

Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the country’s leading daily newspaper, Yeni Musavat, has been held in the capital Baku since 27 October 2003, officially accused of organising rioting that broke out following disputed presidential elections on 15 October. He risks a seven-year jail term.

"This is the first foreign visit to be made by President Aliev since he took over the job. The European Union, Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are all waiting for Azerbaijan’s new leader to take up the challenge of bringing in democratic reforms," said the international press freedom organisation in a letter to the French head of state on 21 January.

"Knowing France’s commitment to freedom of expression, we would be grateful if you could raise the case with Mr Aliev to try to obtain Arifoglu’s release. We are convinced that this gesture would both benefit Azerbaijan and its new leader and that it would be welcomed by the international community," the letter concluded.

Arifoglu, who is also deputy president of the opposition Musavat party, has been remanded in custody at Bailov jail in Baku since 27 October. The prosecutor’s office on 17 January extended his detention by three further months, while he awaits trial.

Reporters Without Borders has already protested to the authorities about Arifoglu’s "unjustified detention", particularly during an investigative visit to Baku in December 2003, when it called for him to be released on bail while awaiting trial. The OSCE made the same appeal, without success.

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