Newspaper Editor Freed Pending Trial CPJ welcomes release, urges government to drop charges

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New York, October 5, 2000 —
Azeri editor Rauf Arifoglu was released today from solitary confinement at the Ministry for National Security in Baku after more than six weeks of pre-trial detention. Arifoglu was required to submit a written assurance that he would not flee the city before the trial, local media reported. A trial date has not yet been announced.

Arifoglu, editor of the leading opposition daily Yeni Musavat, was charged on August 29 with illegal weapons possession, participation in an attempted plane hijacking, and terrorism. An additional charge of “calling for a coup d’etat” was later pressed against him. If convicted on all counts, the editor could face up to 25 years in prison.

The charges result from Yeni Musavat‘s coverage of an attempted airplane hijacking in Nakhchivan, an Azeri enclave located between Armenia and Turkey. The hijacker, a member of the opposition Musavat party, called Arifoglu from the plane to dictate his demands, which he wanted the editor to publish in the party’s newspaper, Yeni Musavat.

The prosecutor’s office had announced that it would keep Arifoglu in detention until the trial, but apparently relented.

CPJ condemned the arrest in a letter sent to Azeri President Heidar Aliyev on August 24.

“We are pleased that Azeri authorities have freed Rauf Arifoglu,” said CPJ deputy director Joel Simon. “However, CPJ is still concerned about the absurd charges that have been filed against him. We ask the government of Azerbaijan to drop all the charges and ensure that Arifoglu and other journalists in the country are free to cover the news and express opinions without interference from the government.”