Government cracks down on independent and opposition media

New York, November 27, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the government closure of Azerbaijan’s oldest independent radio and television broadcaster, and the harassment of independent and opposition print media.

Authorities sealed facilities and confiscated broadcast equipment on November 24 of the Azerbaijan News Service (ANS), local media reported. The closure of the Baku-based outlet effectively took foreign radio programming off the air for most Azerbaijanis. ANS, a popular broadcaster set up in 1991, had rebroadcast programs of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Voice of America. The federal broadcasting licensing authority said ANS had violated media laws and failed to pay fines. ANS said it would appeal the closure.

Also on November 24, a Baku court ordered the immediate eviction of the opposition newspaper Azadliq from a municipally owned building it had occupied rent-free since 1992. Azadliq sublet offices to the independent news agency Turan, opposition paper Bizim Yol, and media watchdog Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS). These groups were evicted the following day.

“Given the pattern of harassment we view the closure of ANS and the eviction of opposition news outlets as a clear assault on the independent and opposition media in Azerbaijan,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

In October, a state property regulator filed a lawsuit against Azadliq, contesting the paper’s ownership of the building. The State Property Committee demanded that Azadliq be fined 30,000 manats (US$34,000) in back rent, and both the paper and its tenants be evicted from the premises. After the State Property Committee filed the lawsuit, the Azadliq offered to negotiate a lease, according to local press. Both the State Property Committee and Economic Court No. 1 ignored the paper’s offer.