Government lawyers and police in Azerbaijan raided the offices of a media organization funded by the United States government on Friday. The officials said they have a court order to close the office -- called a bureau.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said at least ten officials from the state prosecutor’s office entered the bureau in the capital Baku. Armed police came with the officials. RFE/RL put a picture online that showed officials detained 20 workers during the search of the office. Another photo showed office supplies on the floor.
The news agency said prosecutors claimed the raid was part of an investigation of the service for being a “foreign-funded entity.” The prosecutor’s office told the Associated Press news agency that the search took place to investigate, in its words, a “grave crime,” but did not give details.
Nenad Pejic is the agency’s editor-in-chief. He said the raid was “a flagrant violation of every international commitment and standard Azerbaijan has pledged to uphold.”
Earlier this month, a court in the country ordered an RFE journalist held for two months before trial. Reporter Khadija Ismayilova has been accused of pressuring a man to kill himself. American officials have called for her immediate release. They said the case was the latest attempt by the government to stop its critics from speaking and to restrict freedom of the press.
Nenad Pejic said the charges against Ms. Ismayilova are part of what he calls “a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human-rights abuses in Azerbaijan.”
Two months ago, Azerbaijan officials banned Ms. Ismayilova from leaving the country. This ban stopped her from going to meetings in Washington and Prague. She had been set to speak at a hearing on fighting corruption in the OSCE, or Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. American officials had called for the hearing.
Ms. Ismayilova has reported many stories about the business dealings involving family members of Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev. The president’s office has accused Ms. Ismayilova of treason. And she has been charged in another case for publishing a document on social media that suggests government intelligence agents were involved in illegal acts against an opposition activist.
The money for RFE/RL operations comes from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which also governs VOA.
The RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service was created in 1953.
I’m Christopher Cruise.
VOA Correspondents Victoria Macchi and William Gallo reported this story from Washington. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. Hai Do edited the story.