Spokesperson says closing of Baku office violates international commitments
The European Union has responded to closing of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty office in Baku, Azerbaijan, saying that it went against the concept of free speech and an independent media.
The Baku office of RFE/RL was shut down following a Dec. 26 police raid in which documents and official stamps were confiscated and the office was ransacked.
The authorities also pursued individual reporters, going to their homes and bringing them in for questioning.
“The New Year pardon announced by President Aliyev for several prisoners, including a number of journalists and opposition youth activists held in detention, is a welcome step,” an EU spokesperson said in statement published on the EU press website.
“At the same time a decision to close the Baku bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty contravening Azerbaijan’s international commitments to protect media freedom has been taken,” the statement continued.
“Restoring the international community’s faith in the commitment of Azerbaijan to the freedom of expression, a free and independent media, and to the rule of law will require consistent efforts of the authorities in Baku,” the statement concluded.
In a separate press release, RFE/RL editor-in-chief and co-CEO Nenad Pejic condemned the Dec. 26 raid as a “flagrant violation of every international commitment and standard Azerbaijan has pledged to uphold.”
Pejic added, “The order comes from the top as retaliation for our reporting and as a thuggish effort to silence RFE/RL. This is not the first time that a regime has sought to silence us, and we will continue our work to support Azeris’ basic right of free access to information and to report the news to audiences that need it.”
Late in the evening on Dec. 27 police knocked on the doors of at least four bureau reporters demanding that they accompany them to the prosecutor’s office for questioning. An additional eight journalists were told to report for questioning Dec. 29
A court order stated the search was part of an ongoing investigation of the Azerbaijani Service in connection with Azeri laws on foreign funding of NGOs.
“In an environment of total government control over national media, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq has built a solid reputation as one of the only independent outlets in Azerbaijan,” RFE/RL states.
RFE/RL is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 21 countries, including Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
RFE/RL was headquartered at Englischer Garten in Munich, Germany, from 1949 to 1995. In 1995, the headquarters moved to Prague. In addition to the headquarters, the service maintains 20 local bureaus in countries throughout their broadcast region, as well as a corporate office in Washington, D.C.