BAKU , Azerbaijan, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Employees of a U.S.-funded radio station in Baku, Azerbaijan, were detained for up to 12 hours after a raid in a government crackdown on journalists.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty offices in the Central Asian capital, known locally as Radio Azadliq, were raided Friday by police and prosecutors. Computers, flash drives and other equipment were seized, and 12 employees, including the station's cleaning woman, were questioned at a police station over the weekend. All were released, and no charges were formally filed.
The station said it was an attempt to silence one of Azerbaijan's last remaining independent news sources, and Nenad Pajic, Radio Free Europe chief editor told Voice of America the raid was "a flagrant violation of every international commitment and standard Azerbaijan has pledged to uphold."
"(There were) No allegations. What we do know is they (police) say they (are investigating) our operations. That's it. We assume (staff members) are going to be asked questions about our operations, maybe about salaries, maybe who works, who doesn't work, this kind of stuff. Frankly, this is, from my point of view, not important at all, because officials are going to say what they want to say."
He added the government of President Ilham Aliyev has arrested over 200 journalists in the past three years and has shown increasing antagonism toward local news organizations.
The U.S. State Dept. called on Azerbaijan to respect an "international commitment to respecting press freedom." Jeff Shell, chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors which funds Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, said, "This unwarranted action is an escalation of the Azeri (Azerbaijan) government's abusive attempt to intimidate independent journalists and repress free media," in demanding the radio station reopen.
Supporters of Azerbaijan's regime have warned foreign-backed organizations could be helping to provoke a revolution on the model of North Africa's "Arab Spring," and the government has accused some non-governmental organizations of working in concert with neighboring Armenia, which has territorial disputes with Azerbaijan.