Journalists with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported today that police are pursuing them individually, going directly to their homes to take them in for questioning following a raid on the service's Baku bureau yesterday.
In a move the bureau's legal team is calling "unprecedented - even by Azeri standards," police late in the evening on December 27 knocked on the doors of at least four bureau reporters demanding that they accompany them to the prosecutor's office for questioning. An additional eight journalists were told to report for questioning on Monday.
"These people are being dragged to the prosecutor's office by force and by threats," said one of the lawyers, who asked that his name be withheld out of concerns for his personal safety. "By being summoned over the weekend, they are being denied the opportunity to have any legal defense, despite the fact that by Azeri law a witness is normally summoned by phone or official summons to enable a lawyer to be present."
RFE/RL Editor in Chief and Co-CEO Nenad Pejic condemned the police action, and said Azeri authorities are "terrorizing our staff and their families."
In one case, a journalist's mother answered the door and was told by police that RFE/RL's bureau is closed and that the daughter must go with them to have "a conversation." In addition to the journalists, the bureau's cleaning woman was also confronted at her home by Azeri police.
The employees, who have all requested legal representation for their questioning sessions, have been told they will be taken by force to the prosecutor's office if they do not cooperate. A lawyer for the bureau who demanded that his clients' right to counsel be respected was threatened by Iqbal Huseynov, a senior investigator in the case, with being disbarred.
Siyavoush Novruzov, deputy executive secretary for the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, commented on the raid on Friday, characterizing it as a national security issue. Speaking to the local web portal Media Forum, he said, "Every place that works for foreign intelligence and the Armenian lobby should be searched."
In a related development, a Baku court yesterday heard and rejected the appeal of investigative reporter and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, who remains in prison after being sentenced on December 5 to two months' detention on charges of inciting a colleague to attempt suicide.