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29 Nov, 2023 14:47

Ex-Soviet state arrests US government-funded journalists

Baku claims AbzasMedia was conducting illegal financial operations involving the US, French and German embassies
Ex-Soviet state arrests US government-funded journalists

The authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested three journalists from a Western-funded media outlet on charges of currency smuggling. Baku has also filed complaints with the US, Germany, and France over the financing of the outlet, which has published investigations into government corruption.

On Tuesday, the Azerbaijani foreign ministry issued a statement saying the ambassadors of the three Western countries had been summoned to a meeting. They were informed that the AbzasMedia portal was conducting unlawful financial operations with the participation of organizations registered in those states. They were also told that their embassies were involved in such activities.

Azerbaijani legislation prohibits the allocation of funds to unregistered projects. However, according to the foreign ministry, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), FreedomNow, New Democracy Foundation, and other organizations illegally transferred funds to the country, violating the rules of grant allocation and illegally facilitating the activities of the unregistered media portal AbzasMedia.

AbzasMedia said in a statement that, several days ago, three of its journalists were arrested on charges of “currency smuggling” and sentenced to four months in custody, linking the case to its corruption investigations. The outlet also reported that, according to police, €40,000 ($44,000) in cash was found in the office, and accused officers of “deliberately putting money in the office to justify arrests.”

Last month, the government of neighboring Georgia raised the alarm over the actions of the USAID-funded Center for Applied Nonviolent Strategies (CANVAS), saying it was planning to unleash a violent color revolution. The US Embassy in Tbilisi claimed the accusations against CANVAS were “false and fundamentally mischaracterize the goals of our assistance to Georgia.”

On its website, USAID states that it is “investing in democracy work to advance a free, peaceful, and prosperous world.”

USAID activities have been banned in Russia since 2012. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, this decision was mostly due to the fact that the nature of the agency’s work in the country did not always comply with the stated goals, including their “attempts to influence the political process” through the distribution of grants.