Sun, Nov 26, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Azerbaijan independent TV and radio turned off

TRANSMISSION OVER Opposition said the closure was a political decision, while the government maintained ANS owed unpaid taxes

AFP , 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 has 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," Nushirevan Magerramli, the NTRC chairman, told reporters.

"On the one hand it presented itself as the herald of democracy, while on the other it failed to abide by legislation," he said.

Vakhid Mustafeyev, the ANS president, told reporters on Friday that the move was aimed at "depriving citizens of objective information."

"We will take all steps to restore our rights," he said.

An advisor to Mustafeyev told reporters that the company would fight the move in the courts.

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 on 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 yesterday morning.

The newspaper has built up a debt of US$26,000 to the state for its buildings in the center of the capital, according to a complaint deposited by the state property committee.

Ruled by President Ilham Aliyev or his father Heydar Aliyev for most of its post-Soviet history, Azerbaijan has been frequently criticized by the West for its treatment of the media.

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