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Azerbaijan12 December 2006

Restrictions provisionally lifted for independent media, but their future still in doubt

Reporters Without Borders today gave a cautious welcome to a decision by the National Radio and Television Council (NTRC) provisionally lifting a ban on the privately-owned television station ANS TV, which resumed broadcasting today. It was also announced that two independent newspapers, Realni Azerbaidjan and Daily Azerbaijan, will be able to resume publishing in January.

Local retransmission of the BBC, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America will also resume, they will broadcast on 101.7 FM. But ANS TV could be forced off the air again in February if the government reassigns its frequencies.

“We hail these encouraging developments, which are the result of international pressure on the Azeri government, but we fear that these concessions are just a temporary ploy by the government to appease its critics, and that a new crackdown could follow,” Reporters Without Borders said.

A NTRC statement said that “thanks to the president’s goodwill,” ANS TV was authorised to broadcast until February, when it would be known who had been granted its frequencies, which were put up for bid. “If another media wins, ANS TV will be closed down again,” the NTRC said. ANS TV was ordered to stop broadcasting on 24 November when its licence expired.

Meanwhile, Rafiq Taghi of the fortnightly Sanat (“Industry”) and his editor, Samir Sadaght Oughlo, were charged yesterday with “inciting racial hatred” under article 283 of the criminal code over an article entitled “Europe and Us” in which Taghi argued that European values were superior to Muslim ones. They are being held pending trial. An Iranian ayatollah issued a fatwa on 25 November calling for them to be killed because of the article.

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