Almost three years after the offices of Radio Azadlig, the Azerbaijani branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), were raided in Baku, the media group is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Radio Azadlig’s Baku offices were raided in December 2014 for alleged tax crimes; they say the charges are trumped up and politically motivated. The Prosecutor’s Office confiscated property and froze the bank accounts of employees. Since their office was forced to shut down in May 2015, Radio Azadlig has operated from RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters.
‘We have been unable to make any progress on clearing these charges through the Azerbaijani judicial system’, RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said, reiterating his claim that the charges against them are baseless.
The appeal claims that Azerbaijani authorities did not provide the media outlet with the right to a fair trial within a reasonable amount of time or the right to effective remedy.
RFE/RL said in a 13 September press-release they have ‘sought to challenge the tax case at all levels of the country’s judiciary’, but to no avail as the authorities claim the criminal case has been completed. Kent called the investigation ‘an exercise in obfuscation’.
‘As Azerbaijan is under the jurisdiction of the ECHR, we’ve decided to take our case there’, he added. The ECHR is the highest European court, to which Azerbaijan is a signatory.
However, after a journalistic investigation which revealed a $2.9 billion laundering scheme allegedly operated by the Azerbaijani authorities to bribe high level European figures, European politicians have started discussing measures which may lead to Azerbaijan being ejected from the court.
[For details, read on OC Media: EU Parliament calls for ‘Azerbaijani Laundromat’ investigation]
RFE/RL said in a separate move they have filed an appeal to a local court against the March 2017 order to block their website for ‘posing a threat’ to Azerbaijan’s national security, and for publishing ‘extremist content’. The blockage affected four other media outlets, including Berlin-based Meydan TV.
American rights group, Freedom House has rated Azerbaijan ‘not free’ in its Freedom of the Press 2017 report, and gave it a democracy score of 6.93, on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the worst possible score, in its Nations in Transit 2017 report.