U.S. Broadcaster’s Baku Office Closed After Raid by Authorities

Azeri authorities today raided and closed down the Baku office of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in what the U.S.-funded broadcaster said was a “thuggish” effort to silence it.

At least 10 officials from the Prosecutor General’s Office accompanied by armed police broke into the office, RFE/RL said on its website, citing Kenan Aliyev, head of the broadcaster’s Azeri service, Radio Azadliq.

The prosecutors broke into a safe and took documents and stamps, as well as servers, notebooks and cameras before sealing the door of the office, Radio Azadliq said.

The raid was connected to a criminal case initiated by the prosecutor’s Grave Crimes Department, the pro-government APA news service said, citing spokesman Eldar Sultanov. He didn’t specify what the case was, APA said. Sultanov didn’t comment when called by Bloomberg.

The closing comes three weeks after Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist who reported on President Ilham Aliyev’s undeclared family businesses, was ordered held for two months in pre-trial detention on charges of inciting a person to commit suicide.

Ismayilova, who anchored a program on Radio Azadliq, rejected the charge as politically motivated, saying the arrest was connected with her work as a journalist. The U.S. Department of State and human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized the arrest.

‘Thuggish Effort’

“The raiding of our Baku bureau is a flagrant violation of every international commitment and standard Azerbaijan has pledged to uphold,” Nenad Pejic, editor-in-chief and co-CEO at RFE/RL, said in a statement. “The order comes from the top as retaliation for our reporting and as a thuggish effort to silence RFE/RL.”

Pejic said Radio Azadliq will continue to work to “support Azeris’ basic right of free access to information.”

Azerbaijan’s crackdown on civil society and journalists jeopardizes its ties with the U.S., Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski said in a video interview with RFE/RL published Dec. 18. The escalation “frankly is very difficult for us to understand,” he said.

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