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RFE/RL Listeners In Azerbaijan Angry Over Closure Of Azadliq

Now heard only in shortwave and online
Now heard only in shortwave and online
“They shut you down, but it's too late. I already know what liberty is, and that liberty is possible. Thank you for that.”

That's what one listener wrote to Radio Azadliq [Liberty], the Azerbaijani service of RFE/RL, after the government ordered the closure of all foreign broadcasters in the country: BBC, Voice of America, and Radio Azadliq.

Rauf Mirkadirov, an analyst who writes for the newspaper "Zerkalo," echoed the listener's comments. “Radio Azadliq’s error is obvious. It makes people think," Mirkadirov writes. "If people think, they suffer, because they understand that the truth is not what the pro-government media shows: [a picture of] a country with economic growth and stability. They understand how bad the situation really is.”

Radio Azadliq started receiving messages of support on October 31 when Nushiravan Maharramli, the head of the National Television and Radio Council, announced the plan to stop foreign broadcasts on national frequencies.

The messages are still arriving. Radio Azadliq’s offices in Baku and Prague received thousands of phone calls, mobile text messages, and emails, while independent and opposition newspapers published commentaries regretting the government’s decision.

“I don’t understand this decision, and I don’t want to understand it,” wrote Vagif Samedoglu, a prominent writer and member of parliament. "They should not forget that these radio stations helped us, made our voices heard in the world in our bad days.... Especially Radio Azadliq.”

“Everyone would listen to Azadliq, from taxi drivers to housewives. This was enough to shut down the station. Where else you would hear alternative voices?” Mammad Suleymanov wrote in an opinion piece in "Bizim Yol."

Alternative voices are still being heard through Radio Azadliq -- but fewer people are able to hear them. Azadliq is still able to broadcast on shortwave frequencies, and shopkeepers say the demand for radios that receive shortwave has skyrocketed in past days. Others tune in on Azadliq's website, where they can hear not only current broadcasts but also older ones from the archive.

Most listeners, however, express grave concern not only about the fate of their favorite radio station, but about what the development means for Azerbaijan.

“Radio Azadliq would always inform us about different views. Now alternative information will be available only at funerals and mosques -- from the mullahs. These are only places where you don’t get arrested for listening to something other than the government’s propaganda,” said Elshan Poladli. Poladli is an activist of the Dalga youth movement, and has been arrested several times for organizing public protests against corruption, oil pollution, and restrictions on freedom of expression.

In his commentary, Suleymanov writes that “the restrictions placed on Azadliq will end up with bringing freedom to the people, because their unexpressed anger will build up and explode."

(by Khadija Ismayilova of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service)