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Azerbaijan's Turan News Agency Says Expects Government To Drop Case Against It

Mehman Aliyev, Director of Turan Information Agency,
Mehman Aliyev, Director of Turan Information Agency,

Azerbaijan's independent Turan News Agency said on September 29 that it believes the government's tax case against it will be dropped and it will restart operations on October 1.

The agency said its operations were largely suspended in September after its director, Mehman Aliyev, was detained in Baku on August 24 on charges of tax evasion and abuse of power.

Turan called the charges "trumped-up" and "far-fetched," and the arrest was widely denounced as a politically motivated stifling of independent media by Western governments and rights groups.

Aliyev was released from pretrial detention and placed under house arrest on September 12, and Azerbaijani authorities days later reinstated their tax claim against the agency.

In a statement on its website on September 29, Turan thanked Western governments and rights group for their support and said that their outcry after Aliyev's arrest made a difference for the agency.

"We believe that the trumped-up criminal case will be closed. With this faith, we will resume our work on October 1," Turan said.

The news agency said what it called "Black September" was "the most difficult period of its 27-year history, but [it] survived."

Turan was established in 1990. It publishes reports in Azerbaijani, English, and Russian, and cooperates with leading international news agencies.

The arrest of Aliyev last month triggered an outpouring of criticism from the U.S. State Department and other Western governments, which warned that Baku was threatening "freedom of speech" and media freedom, Turan said.

Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director with the New York-based Human Rights Watch, called the arrest "the latest in a vicious crackdown on critical media in the country."

The New York-based Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Baku "has repeatedly used politically motivated criminal charges as a weapon to silence independent and opposition media."

President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the South Caucasus country of nearly 10 million people since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has often shrugged off the criticism in the past.

Azerbaijan is currently ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

With reporting by AP
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