Azerbaijan summons Western envoys over support for arrested journalists
Two of the three denied the charges, while the third had yet to plead. In a statement on Tuesday, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said the diplomats had been told that their embassies and "organisations registered in these countries" had committed illegal actions by financially supporting Abzas Media.
Azerbaijan on Tuesday summoned the U.S., French and German envoys to protest at what it said were "illegal financial operations" to support an investigative news outlet, three of whose staff were arrested last week.
The employees at the independent online outlet Abzas Media were remanded in custody for four months on Nov. 21 on smuggling charges. Police said they had found 40,000 euros ($44,000) in the outlet's Baku offices. Two of the three denied the charges, while the third had yet to plead.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said the diplomats had been told that their embassies and "organisations registered in these countries" had committed illegal actions by financially supporting Abzas Media. It did not publish any evidence of the allegations.
Azerbaijan's relations with some Western countries have deteriorated since September, when Baku retook full control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, prompting an almost total exodus of the territory's ethnic Armenian population. Some Western countries including the United States and France criticised the Azerbaijani attack, and offered Armenia humanitarian aid and diplomatic support.
On Tuesday, Baku said that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that U.S. support for Armenia had "seriously damaged" ties between their countries. Separately, Azerbaijani police on Tuesday arrested Aziz Orujev, head of the Kanal 13 online video channel.
Orujev's lawyer said he had been charged with building without permission, and could be jailed for between one and three years. He said that Orujev denied the charges, and considered them to have been prompted by his journalistic work. International press freedom groups have demanded the release of the Abzas Media staff, describing their arrest as an attempt to silence their anti-corruption reporting.
The organisation Reporters without Borders (RSF) ranks Azerbaijan 151st of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index. Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry declined to comment. ($1 = 0.9135 euros)
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