Reporters Without Borders: The Azerbaijani authorities are trying to suffocate the last independent news agency in the country
Employees of the Department of preliminary tax crimes of the Ministry of Taxes of Azerbaijan, began conducting a search of the offices of the independent news agency, Turan, on the morning of 16 August.
“The tax agents checked both financial documents and the personal items of employees. They did not allow [employees to] film the process of the search and confiscation. The tax agents did not present a copy of a document confirming the sanctioning of the search, but only the document itself so that it could be looked over,” wrote Turan.
According to reports on the official Facebook page of Turan, the search was conducted by ten individuals.
At the end of the search, the tax agents took documentation accounting for 3.5 years, starting in 2014 and ending with the first half of 2017.
An investigation into Turan’s taxes began on 7 August. Tax agents accused the news agency of not paying taxes for the period stretching from 2014 – 2016 in the amount of 37 000 manat (around USD 22 000\)
The news agency categorically denies the allegations against it, and believes that the criminal case against them is illegal. Turan has filed a suit against the departments of preliminary investigation and local income tax – the agencies that initiated the criminal case.
Local and international observes are sure that the tax check, initiated by the authorities, is a part of a campaign to put pressure on the independent press in the country.
“In normal countries, news agencies check the activities of state and government organizations. They find interesting facts and violations of the law and bring them to society’s attention. We, of course, have it backwards: and this is how we are different from the civilized world. The State checks the activities of information agencies. However, the State should, first of all, be interested in the activities of objective, independent sources of information,” believes the Executive Secretary of the “Republican Alternative” movement Natiq Jafarli.
The international organization for the defense of the free press, ‘Reporters Without Borders’, has decidedly condemned the use of tax bodies by the authorities of Azerbaijan as an instrument to place pressure on the Turan news agency.
“This is nothing but an attempt to suffocate the last independent news agency in Azerbaijan. This affair is aimed at destroying the agency’s position economically. We call upon the authorities to put an end to the systematic practice of persecuting the last independent news agency in the country and to cease investigating Turan,” said a statement posted on the organization’s website.
Azerbaijan ranks 162 out of 180 countries by the level of freedom of the press, according to the Reporters Without Borders index.
To find out more about the investigation, read on.