VIENNA, 22 May 2007 - The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, expressed concern today over the eviction of the country's two main independent newspapers from their premises, and new procedures against their imprisoned editor, Eynulla Fatullayev.
On 20 May, the Ministry for Emergency Situations forcibly evacuated the staff of Realniy Azerbaijan and Gundalik Azarbaycan from their offices. The newspapers have not been printed since the eviction and it is unclear when their publication will resume.
"The eviction paralyses Azerbaijan's largest and most popular newspapers, in a clear attempt to fully silence them. This is part of an ongoing campaign to do away with independent journalism," said Haraszti.
He noted the evacuating authorities cited alleged danger from "structural deficiencies" in the 13-storey building, but had evicted no other tenants.
"I have also received worrying news that since the eviction the newspapers' servers and archives are being searched by national security personnel. All this represents an openly oppressive stance, going beyond the previously seen discriminatory treatment of independent media," Haraszti added.
Reportedly, the search warrants were based on a new criminal case against the papers' founder and editor, Eynulla Fatullayev, already convicted last month for 'defamation of a village and of the army'.
"I call on the authorities to stop persecuting the remaining free press in Azerbaijan and ensure that Realniy Azerbaijan and Gundalik Azarbaycan can resume their work," said Haraszti.
Over the last months, the OSCE Representative has several times expressed his concern over the deteriorating state of freedom of the media in Azerbaijan, including during a visit to Baku where he met President Ilham Aliyev.
Seven Azerbaijani journalists are presently in jail, most of them after criminal procedures for libel.