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RFE/RL Offices in Azerbaijan Raided

Sacked and sealed, follows arrest of stringer in country

Perhaps missed by many over the holidays, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has strongly condemned the ransacking of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s office in Baku, Azerbaijan, by Azerbaijani government authorities, on Dec. 26.

According to a release, “Investigators from Azerbaijan’s state prosecutor’s office entered the RFE/RL bureau on the morning of December 26 accompanied by armed police officers. They searched the company safe, ransacked files and equipment, and ordered staff members to leave the building after holding them in a room for several hours without telephone or computer access.” Some equipment and official effects were taken as well.

It added that several staffers were summoned for questioning later.

A more detailed story is available here. It says that Azerbaijani authorities claim that they are investigating “foreign-funded” entities.

BBG Chairman Jeff Shell said, “This unwarranted action is an escalation of the Azeri government’s abusive attempt to intimidate independent journalists and repress free media.” The State Dept. also issued a statement that it was “concerned by reports that employees of the RFE/RL bureau in Baku have been detained in their offices and questioned while the premises were searched by police.” It added that “The reasons for the questioning and search are unclear.”

The raid also follows the arrest of RFE/RL Azerbaijani contributor Khadija Ismayilova earlier in December. The BBG has also called for her release.

Director of the Azerbaijani Service Kenan Aliyev said, “There has been a long ongoing crackdown on the media and NGOs in Azerbaijan, including the arrest of Khadija Ismayilova, the host of our show and our contributor. We view this as part of this ongoing campaign against independent media.”

In addition to RFE/RL, whose offices were temporarily shut, Azerbaijani officials have also raided and shut down several foreign nongovernmental organizations, including the National Democratic Institute and Oxfam.