Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Taxes initiated criminal proceedings against independant Baku-based news agency the Turan Information Agency, on 7 August, according to them.
The investigation is focused on profit taxes of ₼27,000 ($16,000) which the agency allegedly owes from 2014.
Turan deny the claims, saying that the ministry is acting illegally, and have applied to a Baku court to have the charges thrown out.
Turan Information Agency have in the past resisted government censorship.
Mehman Aliyev, director of the agency, told OC Media in July that the goal of a recent state giveaway of flats to journalists was ‘to silence the media and to control it’.
He said that although he and his staff were approached to apply in a similar giveaway in 2013, they turned down the offer.
Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned what it called the ‘persecution of Azerbaijan’s last independent media outlet’
‘These proceedings are designed to cripple a respected news agency financially. We call on the authorities to end this systematic harassment of the last independent media voices and to drop the investigation into Turan’, RSF quoted Johann Bihr, the head of the group’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk as saying.
Independent Azerbaijani journalist Arzu Geybullayeva decried the government on Twitter for targeting the country’s ‘last standing independent news agency’.
— Arzu Geybulla (@arzugeybulla) August 11, 2017
On 24 July, the Sabail District Court sentenced Faig Amirli to, financial director of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadlig and an assistant to the chair of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, guilty of tax evasion and abuse of power. Amirli, who denies the charges, was sentenced to three years and three months in prison and fined ₼39,000 ($23,000).
For years Azerbaijan has been criticised for its dismal record on media freedom and repression of journalists, the media, and opposition figures by a number of international watchdogs, including Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety.