29 August 2000


From 24-26 August, members of the major independent and opposition mass media staged a three-day strike in protest of the "continuing state-sponsored violent attacks on free mass media and journalists" in Azerbaijan, reports the Journalists' Trade Union (JuHI). JuHI called upon international free expression supporters to join a campaign for a free press in Azerbaijan. The striking media workers also protested the recent arrest of Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of the opposition daily "Yeni Musavat". Arifoglu was arrested on 22 August after police allegedly found a gun in his apartment. The journalist's colleagues claim that the weapon was planted by the police and that the arrest is "an attempt by the authorities to cast slurs upon opposition journalists by accusing them of crimes they had not committed." On 21 August, Arifoglu was questioned in relation to the hijacking of a plane by a member of the Musavat party. The hijacker had phoned Arifoglu to have the editor publish a list of his demands, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

This attack is "merely the latest incident in a series of events of government acts of harassment against "Yeni Musavat"," says the International Press Institute (IPI). On 20 August, "Yeni Musavat" journalist Etibar Jebrayiloglu, was arrested in connection with the hijacking. Jebrayiloglu was released three days later. These arrests, along with the recent illegal banning of the independent newspaper "Uch Noqte", could "constitute an organized government campaign to stifle independent journalism in Azerbaijan during the run-up to the 5 November parliamentary elections," warns CPJ. IPI notes that Arifoglu announced that he was going to run for parliament in the elections. The protesters intend "to issue a joint newspaper devoted to press freedom issues, and have announced that they will launch a collective hunger strike if the authorities do not release Arifoglu forthwith and cease harassing the independent press," says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

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