The Baku bureau of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service has been sealed shut following a raid this morning by police and investigators from the state prosecutor's office that appears to be intended to silence one of the country's last independent media outlets.
RFE/RL editor-in-chief and co-CEO Nenad Pejic condemned the raid of the Baku office as a "flagrant violation of every international commitment and standard Azerbaijan has pledged to uphold." Pejic added, "The order comes from the top as retaliation for our reporting and as a thuggish effort to silence RFE/RL. This is not the first time that a regime has sought to silence us, and we will continue our work to support Azeris' basic right of free access to information and to report the news to audiences that need it."
Investigators and armed police officers entered the bureau on December 26 and ordered employees into a room while they ransacked the company safe and confiscated documents and official stamps. Staff members were released after several hours. At least 10 employees have been summoned to the prosecutor's office for questioning over the past several days.
A court order stated the search was part of an ongoing investigation of the Azerbaijani Service in connection with Azeri laws on foreign funding of NGOs.
Kenan Aliyev, director of the Azerbaijani Service, characterized the raid "as part of this ongoing campaign against independent media and NGOs in Azerbaijan, including the arrest of Khadija Ismayilova, the host of our show and our contributor."
In an interview with the Russian language "Current Time" television program on December 18, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski told RFE/RL that U.S. officials have had "very serious discussions" with Azeri counterparts about recent detentions and arrests, and said that Azerbaijan's relationship with the United States is "jeopardized by the crackdown on civil society."
Several international organizations, including IREX , the National Democratic Institute, and Oxfam have been forced to suspend their operations in Azerbaijan this year.
UPDATE: Also on December 26, an Azeri court rejected Khadija Ismayilova's appeal of her sentence to two months in pre-trial detention. Read the latest updates in the Ismayilova case on the Azerbaijani Service's live blog.