Arifoglu was arrested amid antigovernment protests–and a crackdown against opposition journalists and political activists–that followed the 2003 presidential election. Arifoglu is the deputy director of the Musavat opposition party, but his primary duties entailed editing the party’s newspaper, Yeni Musavat.
The unrest erupted after authorities declared Ilham Aliyev–son of the country’s former president, Heydar Aliyev, who died in December 2003–the victor with 80 percent of the vote. International election monitors strongly criticized the poll.
A court ordered Arifoglu detained for three months while officials investigated his participation in post-election protests. During at least part of that time, authorities held him in solitary confinement in a cold, unsanitary cell and did not allow him to receive newspapers or writing materials, the editor’s lawyers and supporters told the local media.
In December 2003, presidential adviser Ali Hasanov said the journalist was being detained because of his journalism. “He is not just a politician, but a newspaper editor as well,” Hasanov said, the independent newspaper Ekho reported. “Therefore, if he was released, he would mobilize all possible newspapers to interfere in the activities of law enforcement agencies and the court [in the case against him].”
Arifoglu and several opposition leaders went on a hunger strike for several weeks in December 2003 and February 2004 to protest their detention. In January 2004, a court extended Arifoglu’s detention for another three months because prosecutors had not produced evidence against him, the independent news agency Turan reported.
On the eve of his May 2004 trial, Arifoglu maintained his innocence, saying the criminal charges were an effort to silence his work as a journalist. Prosecutors began a joint trial of Arifoglu and six opposition leaders on May 7 at the Serious Crimes Court in the capital, Baku. At the first hearing, police barred dozens of independent and opposition journalists from entering the courtroom but allowed pro-government journalists to attend, Agence France-Presse reported.
Arifoglu’s lawyers complained of numerous procedural violations during the trial. Defense lawyer Mubariz Qarayev said the court rejected requests to call witnesses or present evidence on behalf of the defendant, the independent newspaper Ekho reported. In some cases, police officers testifying for the prosecution provided nearly identical testimony, the independent newspaper Zerkalo reported.
On October 22, the court sentenced Arifoglu to five years in prison on charges of organizing antigovernment riots. The six opposition activists were sentenced to prison terms ranging up to five years.
Safarov said the defendants plan to appeal the conviction in Azerbaijani courts and, if necessary, to the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights.