WASHINGTON -- The United States has welcomed the release from pretrial detention of Mehman Aliyev, the director of Azerbaijan’s independent Turan news agency, and called on the authorities in Baku to drop all charges against him.
“We ask the government to drop the remaining charges against him and allow Turan to perform its important work unhindered,” the State Department said on September 13.
“We further call on the authorities to build on this positive step by taking action to strengthen freedom of expression and other human rights in Azerbaijan,” the statement added.
Aliyev was charged by Azerbaijani authorities in August with tax evasion and abuse of powers. He denies any wrongdoing.
Authorities in Baku also have frozen all of the Turan news agency’s bank accounts during the ongoing investigation.
Aliyev was released from pretrial detention on September 11 on the condition that he remain under house arrest until his trial, which has not yet been scheduled.
“I consider this decision as positive...I'm glad that mistake has been amended," the Turan director later said.
Turan was established in 1990 and has published online reports in Azerbaijani, English, and Russia. It also has cooperated with leading international news agencies about stories in Azerbaijan.
Many media-freedom groups and Western governments have condemned the actions against Aliyev and Turan, calling them politically motivated and part of a wider campaign designed to silence voices critical of the government.
In its statement, the U.S. State Department said the United States continues “to urge the government of Azerbaijan to release all those incarcerated for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”
Dozens of journalists have fled the country in recent years to escape the crackdown, according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which says Baku is using “tax-evasion allegations to harass” Turan.
Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.