Azeri Authorities Close Largest Independent TV Station Baku

BAKU–Authorities in Azerbaijan on Friday closed the country’s largest independent TV and radio broadcaster ANS in a move condemned by Western observers. The National TV and Radio Council (NTRC) said in a statement that ANS had violated the law by failing to pay taxes and offering its frequencies to Western broadcasters who were not licensed in Azerbaijan. The company’s radio arm had rebroadcast material from the BBC and US stations Radio Liberty and Voice of America. "The ANS group of companies tried to place itself above the law," NTRC chairman Nushirevan Magerramli was quoted by news agencies as saying. "On the one hand it presented itself as the herald of democracy, while on the other it failed to abide by legislation," he said. ANS president Vakhid Mustafeyev told journalists Friday that the move was aimed at "depriving citizens of objective information."We will take all steps to restore our rights," he said. ANS is widely considered as the most objective broadcaster in the country, said Maurizio Pavesi, the Baku representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who said in a statement that he was "deeply concerned" by the closure. Zeinal Mammedli, a media expert with the Council of Europe, described the closure as "a political decision."The development of this affair will show whether we are moving towards a liberal and democratic state or a totalitarian State", Mammedli said. Later Friday police began to evacuate the headquarters of opposition newspaper Azadliq, following a court decision earlier in the day. The building, which also houses the Popular Front opposition party and a media freedom pressure group should have been cleared by Saturday morning. The newspaper has built up a debt of 26,000 dollars (20,000 euros) to the state for its buildings in the center of the capital, according to a complaint deposited by the state property committee.

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