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Azerbaijan18 February 2004

Imprisoned journalist calls off hunger strike


New call for the release of opposition editor, now on hunger strike and ailing

Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the deteriorating health of journalist Rauf Arifoglu, who had been detained for more than three months and has begun a hunger strike. He is both the editor of the main opposition daily Yeni Musavat and vice-president of the opposition party Musavat.

Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its appeal to the Azerbaijani authorities to release opposition newspaper editor Rauf Arifoglu provisionally while he awaits trial. Arifoglu has been on hunger strike for the past week and is refusing to call off the protest, his lawyer, Samed Panahov, said.

Panahov said Arifoglu’s condition is deteriorating. He has violent stomach pains and has experienced sharp falls in his blood pressure. He is being examined regularly by both prison medical staff and Red Cross doctors.

Arifoglu, who is both the editor of the main opposition daily Yeni Musavat and vice-president of the opposition party Musavat, has been detained for more than three months pending trial on charges of organising the riots that followed the disputed presidential elections in October. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for seven years.

The authorities originally ordered on 27 October that he should be held in Bailov prison in Baku for a period of three months. On 17 January, the prosecutor’s office extended this by another three months pending trial, for which no date has yet been set.

The authorities claim that he organised the demonstrations of 15 and 16 October, and accuse him of "disturbing the peace" and "refusing to comply" with official decisions. In particular, they allege that objects used by Musavat protesters were stored in his office in the newspaper, which is in the same building as the party.

Deputy state prosecutor Ramiz Rzayev maintains that he must remain in custody because of the gravity of the charges and the possibility that he could become a fugitive from justice.

When Reporters Without Borders met with the authorities during a fact-finding visit to Azerbaijan in December, they maintained that Arifoglu was not being detained as a journalist but as a leader of the Musavat party.

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