The director of Azerbaijan’s only independent media outlet has been imprisoned, in what government critics view as the Azerbaijani administration’s latest attempt to suppress free speech and silence political opposition.
Authorities detained Mehman Aliyev, director of Baku-based Turan Information Agency, on Thursday as part of an ongoing investigation into charges of tax evasion.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Taxes initiated criminal proceedings against Turan on August 7, and froze the organization’s accounts a few days later.
International press freedom organizations have called on the Azerbaijani government to immediately release Aliyev.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists described the arrest as “politically motivated persecution.”
In a statement to CivilNet, Azerbaijani independent journalist, blogger Arzu Geybulla described the charges against the media outlet as “bogus.”
She said Aliyev’s arrest reflects the Azerbaijani government’s “authoritarian grip,” and is an example of systematic efforts to curtail press freedom.
According to Geybulla, 10 journalists and bloggers are currently behind bars in Azerbaijan.
Read the full statement by Arzu Geybulla:
“We cannot speak of any progress in circumstances such as this one,” Geybulla said. “Azerbaijani leadership has sadly failed at all its promises to its people, including establishing democracy, and a system of checks and balances that would keep decisions such as this one from happening.”
“Authorities have systematically jailed journalists and squeezed out independent media outlets by abusing the criminal code,” said Nina Ognianova, Committee to Protect Journalists Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator.
“This is a sad day in Azerbaijan’s history of media freedom.
In fact, it’s disgraceful. Because Turan News Agency has been known for its reputation and coverage of news in Azerbaijan. They have been unbiased, impartial, always at the top of the news-making business in Azerbaijan. The tax charges brought against the outlet are nothing but bogus.
And the arrest of its director, Mehman Aliyev, is yet another example of an authoritarian grip of the ruling government. Nothing else.
There are currently 10 journalists and bloggers behind bars in Azerbaijan. According to most recent data, there are 158 political prisoners in Azerbaijan.
We cannot speak of any progress in circumstances such as this one. Azerbaijani leadership has sadly failed at all its promises to its people, including establishing democracy, and a system of checks and balances that would keep decisions such as this one from happening.”
Turan Information Agency was founded in 1990 with the goal of providing independent reporting and news analysis in Azerbaijan. The website publishes reports in Azerbaijani, Russian and English, and is the country’s only remaining independent media organization.
In May, a Baku court blocked access to five online news outlets critical of the government, including Azadliq, the local service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.