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Azerbaijan reinstates tax penalties against Turan Information Agency

19 September 2017
Turan Information Agency (Screenshot)

The Ministry of Taxes of Azerbaijan has reinstated tax penalties against independent news outlet Turan Information Agency only days after the agency was informed the sanctions against them were dropped.

According to Turan, the agency received three emails from the Baku department of the Ministry of Taxes on 18 September. The letters, dated 15 September, said that Turan owed ₼37,253 ($21,400) in taxes and additional ₼9,294 ($5,500) as interest for delaying the repayment, the outlet wrote.

This came six days after, according to Turan, the Ministry informed them that they didn’t owe any money. The agency reported that on 12 September, they received letters dated 11 September which said ‘the agency has no debts for taxes or any penalties’.

Turan’s head Mehman Aliyev, who was arrested on 24 August, was moved from pretrial detention to house arrest on 11 September.

Later on 18 September, Turan wrote that their bank accounts were unblocked.

However, the agency was not officially informed whether the criminal case against them was closed or not.

The outlet wrote they could not explain ‘what happened in the Ministry during these days and how come that the same government agency changes its position by 180 degrees without explaining the reasons’.

International organisations, including the Reporters Without Borders, have labelled Turan ‘Azerbaijan’s last independent media outlet’. Turan Information Agency have in the past resisted government censorship. In an interview with OC Media back in July, Aliyev criticised a government programme to give free flats to journalists, saying its aim was to ‘silence the media and control it’.

[Read on OC Media: What does an Azerbaijani journalist need the most: a free flat or a free environment?]

In a 18 September interview with Georgian media outlet Netgazeti, Mehman Aliyev said ‘nothing has changed, I was only released from jail’, claiming ‘it is no longer dangerous to get arrested, — Azerbaijan is already one big jail'.

International actors, including the US and OSCE, welcomed Aliyev’s release from pretrial detention, but asked the government to drop the remaining charges against him.

On 11 September, Harlem Désir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, reiterated his hope that Turan ‘would shortly be allowed to continue to work’.