August 24, 2017 / 4:14 PM / a year ago

Azeri police detain head of opposition-leaning news agency

BAKU (Reuters) - Police in Azerbaijan have detained the director of Turan opposition news agency on suspicion of tax evasion, his lawyer and the agency said on Thursday, amid a crackdown on dissent in the ex-Soviet country.

The West has criticized Azerbaijan for what it says is intimidation and repression aimed at the opposition and urged Baku to comply with its pledges on human rights. Azeri officials deny the accusations.

“The Turan director Mekhman Aliyev has been detained as a suspect of ... tax evasion and abuse of office,” the agency said.

Aliyev’s lawyer, Fuad Agayev, told Reuters the case was groundless and “fabricated”.

Turan’s director told Reuters earlier this month that the tax ministry had accused him of evasion of taxes to the amount of 29,000 manats ($17,000). Police had also searched the agency’s office.

In May, a court in Baku ruled to block access to the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani service and four local news media outlets, which had criticized the authorities.

Three years ago, Azerbaijan criminalized defamation on the Internet, meaning many people now use aliases and covert accounts. Then last year, it made online defamation of the president a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment.

Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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