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Azerbaijani Prosecutors Investigate RFE/RL Contributor

RFE/RL contributor Islam Shikhali
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.

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