Azerbaijan has accused the US, France, and Germany of interfering in the country’s internal affairs by funding AbzasMedia, an independent news outlet raided by the police last week.
On Tuesday, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned French Ambassador Anne Boillon, German Ambassador Ralf Horlemann, and acting US Ambassador Hugo Guevara to discuss their countries’ funding of AbzasMedia.
According to their statement, during the meetings the ministry accused the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), US non-profit organisation FreedomNow, and the Danish New Democracy Fund of ‘illegally transferring financial resources to the territory of Azerbaijan, violating the rules of granting grants, and made illegal contributions to the activities of AbzasMedia’.
The ministry noted that the embassies’ ‘illegal actions […] are a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations’.
Last week, Azerbaijan raided the offices of AbzasMedia and arrested their director Ulvi Hasanli, editor-in-chief Sevinj Vagifgizi, and deputy director Mahammad Kekalov.
They accused them of smuggling foreign currency as a group.
In response to the summons, the US Embassy in Azerbaijan told Voice of America on Wednesday that the accusations against USAID were ‘false and fundamentally mischaracterise the purpose of our aid’.
‘As always, our aid is transparent. All USAID programs promote democratic values aimed at free and peaceful societies’, they said.
The German Embassy promptly rejected the accusations levelled against it and expressed concern for Kekalov, who is also a disability rights activist and the founder of an accessible fashion brand with clothing lineups that cater to the needs of people with disabilities.
‘The German Embassy has continuously supported Mahammad Kekalov and his social commitment [to] persons with disabilities, including through a financial contribution of 1,500 Euros in connection with a fashion show organised by Kekalove Adaptive on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December 2021’.
‘We are very concerned about the accusations against Mr Kekalov and expect him to receive a fair legal trial’, read the German Embassy’s statement.
Khadija Ismayil, an Azerbaijani investigative journalist, noted that the Azerbaijani government’s criticism of the Western embassies was indicative of its current allegiances.
‘Countries that declare the West as enemies are usually in the arms of Russia. Until now, at least, they talked about a balanced foreign policy; now the rhetoric of the Azerbaijani leadership is no different from the rhetoric of Lukashenka’, said Ismayil.
On Tuesday, a week after the crackdown on AbzasMedia started, the Azerbaijani authorities also charged Aziz Orujov, the founder of independent online TV Kanal 13, with illegally constructing a house without a permit.
Journalists and rights activists in Azerbaijan say that the arrest of Orujov and the raid on AbzasMedia were politically motivated.