Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has lambasted the Azerbaijani government for its persecution of the country's last remaining independent media outlet, the Turan news agency, via an allegedly unwarranted tax-evasion investigation.
On 11 August, Turan released a statement affirming that it had been accused of failing to declare its profits accurately since 2014, with the tax office demanding that the outlet pay back over 37,000 manats ($20,000) in tax and other fees.
“It was just a matter of time before the authorities targeted the last independent media outlet still operating in Azerbaijan,” said Johann Bihr, who heads RSF's eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
Turan rejects the allegations, claiming that the illegitimate investigation — which failed to take into account a recent audit, clearing Turan of similar charges — aims only to damage the organisation.
“These proceedings are designed to cripple a respected news agency financially,” Mr Bihr believes. “We call on the authorities to end this systematic harassment of the last independent media voices and to drop the investigation into Turan.”
Founded in 1990, Turan was among the first independent news agencies in the USSR. It produces content in Azeri, English and Russian.
The harassment of Turan by the government is indicative of an increasing crackdown on media freedom in Azerbaijan. In May this year, a district court ruled in favour of blocking access to the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Azerbaijani Service, while the last remaining opposition newspaper, Azadliq, was forced to stop producing a print edition in September 2016. In contrast, in celebration of National Press Day on 22 July, 255 government-friendly journalists were given free flats by the authorities as a token of thanks for their efforts.