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Azerbaijan 27 November 2006

Authorities shut down TV station and evict two newspapers and news agency in crackdown on independent media

Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern today after police executed a court order evicting the opposition daily Azadlig, the news agency Turan, the newspaper Bizim Yol and the Popular Front of Azerbaijan from their premises in Baku on 24 November and the National Television Council forced the independent TV station ANS to stop broadcasting the same day by withdrawing its licence.

“These measures show the Azeri authorities are taking a harder line towards the independent media despite the appeals from press freedom organisations, the European Union, the OSCE and the United States,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Although adopted by judicial and administrative authorities, the measures were clearly politically motivated as only opposition, independent or foreign media are involved.”

The press freedom organisation added: “Azadlig, with a print run of 9,000, is the main opposition daily, while ANS TV, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, is the first independent TV station. It retransmitted the BBC, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America radio stations on its frequency. We call on President Ilham Aliev to use his authority to allow ANS TV to resume broadcasting and to permit media pluralism.”

Around 100 policemen overran the premises of the main opposition party, the leading opposition daily and the news agency Turan in order to carry out the evictions. They were ordered by the State Committee for Property Control, which claimed that an 1992 accord with Azadlig allowing it to use the premises free of charge under article 291 of the civil code was no longer legal.

During the removal of equipment to other premises assigned to the media, far from the city centre, which took place on the morning of 25 November, part of Turan’s archives and computer equipment was damaged. Azadlig’s staff found the premises they were assigned were already occupied by people who refused to move out. Deputy editor Ali Rzayev said Azadlig would continue operating from the premises of Yeni Musavat, another opposition newspaper.

The independent and opposition media have been staging peaceful protests ever since the threats of eviction and loss of licence were made known. They have also been protesting against arrests, prosecutions, beatings and murders of journalists, as well as economic and administrative harassment of the non-governmental media.

Several journalists and editors have been on hunger strike since 9 November, including Azadlig editor Ganimat Zahidov, who had to be rushed to a Baku hospital on 23 November and who is still in a serious condition. Rallies in the city centre have been dispersed by police, who briefly arrested around 70 demonstrators (only 25, according to the police).

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