The Turan agency's website.
The Turan agency's website.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - Police in Azerbaijan have detained the director of the Turan opposition news agency on suspicion of tax evasion, his lawyer and the agency said 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 has 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 this month that the tax ministry had accused him of evasion of taxes in 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.