The United States on Tuesday, November 28 reiterated its concern over the recent wave of arrests of independent journalists — fourth in a week — in Azerbaijan, Turan reports.
"We are deeply troubled by the arrest of the following journalists: Ulvi Hasanli, as well as the allegations of Hasanli’s physical abuse in custody; Sevinj Vagifgizi; Aziz Orujov; and Mahammad Kekalov, who is also a civic activist," a State Department spokesperson said.
"We urge the Azerbaijani government to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all, including those exercising freedom of expression," a State Department spokesperson added.
Orujev, head of the Kanal 13 internet television channel, is the latest target of what is being termed by human rights groups as the "media hunt" in Azerbaijan as he was arrested yesterday and hasbeen charged with "building without permission," and faces between one and three years in prison, according to his lawyers. The journalist denies the charges, and considers them linked to his work.
The move came just days after aDistrictCourt in Baku separately ordered that Hasanli, Vagifgizi and Kekalov, employees at an independent online outlet Abzas Media, known for investigative reporting, remain in custody on charges of conspiring to bring money into the country 'unlawfully'. If found guilty, they face up to eight years in prison.
In an abrupt move,the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry on Tuesday summoned the U.S., German and French envoys to protest at what it said were "illegal financial operations" to support Abzas Media.
In a statement the Ministry said the diplomats had been told that their embassies and "organizations registered in these countries" had committed illegal actions by financially supporting the media outlet. No evidence backing Baku allegations has been published in the official government release.
However, Azerbaijan's pro-government media has recently been ramping up its anti-West rhetoric and calling for "actions" against the activities of U.S-backed funds.
On November 21, Hikmat Hajiyev, President Ilham Aliyev's senior advisor on foreign affairs, took exception to USAID administrator Samantha Power's criticism of Azerbaijan's military operation, and declared: "There is no place for USAID operation in Azerbaijan any longer!"
When asked by TURAN forreactionon why USAID is being targeted by Russia-backed regimes in the region, and if they could be viewed as a part of broader (coordinated) efforts, a State Department spokesperson said the following:
"Allegations such as these against USAID assistance projects, are false and fundamentally mischaracterize the goals of our assistance. As always, our assistance is transparent. USAID programming around the world promotes democratic values and advances free, peaceful, and prosperous societies through partnership and investments."
As for Lavrov's comments, a State Department spokesperson went on to add, "We have seen Lavrov’s comments about NGOs. Countries with vibrant, independent civil societies are more resilient. Rather than viewing them as threats, governments around the world should regard civil society organizations as partners in meeting today’s complex challenges."