WASHINGTON – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to resolve claims brought by the Azerbaijani government that have hampered its news reporting inside the country for almost three years.
“We have been unable to make any progress on clearing these charges through the Azerbaijani judicial system,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. “The charges are baseless, and as Azerbaijan is under the jurisdiction of the ECHR, we’ve decided to take our case there.”
RFE/RL’s Baku bureau was raided and shut down by state agents in December 2014 on charges, including two tax-related claims, the company has repeatedly said are bogus. While it has sought to challenge the tax case at all levels of the country’s judiciary (other charges were overturned in 2016), the Supreme Court ruled to suspend further review until what authorities say is a parallel, criminal investigation is complete. RFE/RL lawyers have questioned the validity of the criminal investigation, which began with the raid and has dragged on despite a requirement under Azerbaijani law that it be completed by the end of 2016. It has produced no charges or report.
Says Kent, “We can only conclude that this so-called investigation is an exercise in obfuscation. It has produced no evidence of wrongdoing, but it has kept our Baku bureau in legal limbo and created a threatening atmosphere for our journalists.”
RFE/RL’s appeal to the ECHR, filed in June, cites Articles 6.1 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Azerbaijan is a signatory, which provide for the right to a fair trial within a reasonable amount of time and the right to an effective remedy.
In addition to seeking remedy through the courts, RFE/RL has repeatedly appealed to Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general to resolve the status of its Baku bureau. Most recently, in a letter this past August, RFE/RL requested an update on the criminal investigation; the return of company stamps, seals, and documents that were seized during the 2014 raid and are needed if the bureau is to be reopened; and the release of bureau bank accounts that were frozen, with funds totaling more than $70,000. Authorities have acknowledged receipt of the letter but have issued no reply.
Separately, RFE/RL has filed locally to appeal a court-approved blockage of the Azerbaijani Service’s website for “posing a threat” to the country’s national security and for publishing “extremist content.” The ban has been in effect since March. No court date has yet been set.
RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, known locally as Radio Azadliq, is an indispensable source of independent news in the country, actively publishing text, audio, and video content on the web, via satellite, and on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and other digital platforms.