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RFE/RL contributor Islam Shikhali

Police in Baku have searched the apartment of a contributor of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

The September 26 operation in Islam Shikhali's rented apartment was related to charges of tax evasion, according to the search warrant.

Shikhali's notebook, video camera, microphone, mobile phone, all bank checks, as well as his ID card were confiscated.

All personal documents, except Shikhali's passport, were later returned to the journalist.

During the search, Shikhali was not home and his roommate, Orkhan Rustamzade, was taken to the Prosecutor’s Office where he was questioned for one-and-a-half to two hours.

Rustamzade was released on the same day and asked to tell Shikhali that he was invited to the Prosecutor’s Office for questioning on September 28.

The raid comes at a time when President Ilham Aliyev's regime in Azerbaijan has been under increasing censure for its record on civil society and media freedoms.

This criticism intensified recently following the imprisonment of rights activists Leyla Yunus and her husband Arif as well as another RFE/RL contributor, Khadija Ismayilova. The charges against the Yunuses and Ismayilova were widely believed to have been fabricated in both cases.

Ismayilova was sentenced in early September to seven 1/2 years in prison on charges including libel, tax evasion, and abuse of power.

Leyla and Arif Yunus in August were sentenced to eight 1/2 and seven years in prison, respectively, on charges of economic crimes.

Several other journalists and rights activists in Azerbaijan have been sentenced to prison terms in recent months on charges that include tax evasion, illegal business activity, and hooliganism.

In December 2014, investigators from the state prosecutor’s office raided RFE/RL’s Baku bureau -- seizing computers, hard drives, and other equipment before sealing off the premises.

RFE/RL closed its still sealed Baku bureau in May of this year, but continues to broadcast to Azerbaijan from its headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic.

Freed Political Prisoner Calls For Boycott Of Belarusian Vote
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MINSK -- It's been a humdrum presidential election campaign in Belarus.

Serious contenders have been sidelined and authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in office for more than two decades, is expected to easily secure a fifth term.

The campaign's unexpected highlight came on September 23, when opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich urged voters to stay away from the poll on October 11 during a rare unsanctioned protest.

Hundreds of supporters flocked to downtown Minsk to hear Statkevich, who denounced the absence of any prominent opposition figure in the vote.

The three candidates cleared by Belarus's Central Election Commission to run against Lukashenka are the leaders of two pro-government parties and Tatsyana Karatkevich, a relatively obscure candidate representing the opposition movement Havary Pravdu (Tell the Truth).

Well-known opposition figures have criticized Karatkevich for ignoring their calls for a boycott and helping lend legitimacy to an election they condemn as a farce.

"There are no opposition candidates in the elections," Statkevich told RFE/RL at the rally.

Statkevich himself ran against Lukashenka in 2010 but was jailed after the vote.

He was released from prison last month amid what is widely seen as Lukashenka's efforts to mend ties with the West.

The atmosphere was said to be similar to protests held ahead of elections in 2006 and 2010.
The atmosphere was said to be similar to protests held ahead of elections in 2006 and 2010.

RFE/RL journalists present at the rally said that many young people attended and that the atmosphere was similar to protests held ahead of elections in 2006 and 2010.

Unlike previous rallies ahead of elections, however, this week's protest was not violently disbanded by the police -- another indication that Lukashenka is striking a more conciliatory tone.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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