WASHINGTON – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has closed its Baku bureau, after Azeri authorities sealed the office shut last December in connection with a government-led campaign against foreign organizations.
“Azeri authorities have acted illegally and arbitrarily, causing profound, and in several cases permanent, suffering and dislocation for our staff and their families,” said Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL editor in chief. Pejic also indicated that the company is prepared to take all steps to defend its rights and interests, and those of its staff members, against the government’s actions.
These actions include the raid of RFE/RL’s Baku bureau together with the confiscation of company documents, stamps, and equipment without due process; the interrogation and detention of Baku bureau staff without legal representation; the expulsion of the bureau’s legal counsel from court proceedings; the cancellation of previously approved tax audits; threats to staff members’ relatives; and arbitrary bans restricting the travel of some employees.
RFE/RL also challenges the government’s allegations against Khadija Ismayilova, an internationally recognized investigative reporter and contributor to RFE/RL, who was arrested on December 5 and remains in prison on charges that derive from the allegations against RFE/RL.
RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, known locally as Radio Azadliq, is continuing its newsgathering and reporting functions in Azerbaijan, and is operating on digital and satellite platforms, despite the closure of its bureau.
Said Pejic, “We will continue working to fulfill our mission, as we have for more than sixty years. We regret the actions taken by the government of Azerbaijan against RFE/RL and its staff over the past several months. RFE/RL has always operated legally in Azerbaijan. We call on the government of Azerbaijan to fulfill its obligations with regard to basic rights and freedoms and stop this campaign of repression, which is hurting its citizens and crippling its future.”