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Azerbaijani President Rejects Press-Freedom Criticism

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev made his remarks during the fifth News Agencies World Congress in Baku on November 17.

BAKU -- Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has rejected allegations that his government has imposed restrictions on the freedom of the press.

Speaking to a select group of participants of the fifth News Agencies World Congress in Baku on November 17, Aliyev said the fact that 75 percent of Azerbaijanis have access to the Internet and that more than 2 million have accounts on the Twitter and Facebook social-media sites prove that the South Caucasus country has no problems with freedom of information.

Aliyev avoided directly answering a question by AP Vice President John Daniszewski regarding imprisoned Azerbaijani journalists and the 2015 closure of RFE/RL's bureau in Baku.

Aliyev also accused the West of violating journalists' rights.

"How come [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange is still at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London?" Aliyev asked. "He has been at the embassy for more than two years and is afraid to go out. Is it democratic to treat a journalist like this?"

Assange has been in the Ecuadoran Embassy since August 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning in connection with sexual-assault allegations.

According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2016 Press Freedom Index, Azerbaijan places 163rd out of 180 countries ranked.

The RSF report accused Aliyev of "crushing all forms of pluralism" and "waging a relentless war against his remaining critics since 2014."