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Azerbaijan Government Denies Crackdown on News Media

Government officials in Azerbaijan are denying any intention to crack down on media freedom in the country.

Presidential aides made the statement a day after authorities searched the home of Eynulla Fatullayev, the founder of two popular opposition newspapers. A Baku court sentenced him in April to a term of two-and-a-half years in prison on charges of defaming the armed forces.

Azerbaijan officials say Fatullayev is now facing an additional charge of making a terrorist threat.

The government closed the offices of his two newspapers, Real Azerbaijan and Gyundelyk Azerbaijan, on Monday, citing fire code violations.

Azerbaijan officials say the government is not putting pressure on the media. They say the two newspapers were not shut down but evicted for the state of their offices.

An editor of Real Azerbaijan, Uzeir Jafarov, insists the government action was a response to critical articles that appeared in the publications.

He announced plans for court action to overturn the eviction, which he called groundless.

The charges against Fatullayev were based on his interview with an ethnic Armenian leader from the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, who accused Azerbaijani forces of responsibility for a 1992 massacre of civilians in the town of Khojali.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.