US State Department denies allegations against USAID projects in Azerbaijan amid journalists’ arrests

US Senate. Photo: rarrarorro/shutterstock

The US State Department has refuted accusations made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan (MFA) against the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Responding to claims made by the MFA, the State Department clarified that the allegations against USAID aid projects are unfounded and misconstrue the core objectives of their assistance. Emphasizing their commitment to transparency, the State Department highlighted that all USAID programs are geared towards promoting democratic values for the establishment of free and peaceful societies.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan had alleged violations of grant rules by USAID and several international organizations. Following this claim, the French ambassador and attorneys general from the United States and Germany were summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in connection with the “AbzasMedia” case. The ministry accused the embassies and registered organizations in these countries of engaging in illegal acts by providing financial support to the media, although no evidence was presented to substantiate these allegations.

Expressing concern over recent events, the US State Department voiced apprehension regarding the arrests of four independent journalists in Azerbaijan within a week. Specifically mentioning the cases of Ulvi Hasanli, Sevinj Vagifgizi, Aziz Orujov, and civil activist Muhammad Kekalov, a State Department representative urged the Azerbaijani government to uphold the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals, including those exercising freedom of expression.

The German Embassy also addressed the situation, explaining their continuous support for Muhammad Kekalov and his contributions to the disabled community. Mentioning financial assistance provided for a fashion show organized by “Kekalove Adaptive Fashion,” the Embassy expressed concern over the charges against Kekalov and stressed the expectation of a fair trial.

Detailing the sequence of events, the report highlighted that a search was conducted at the office of “AbzasMedia” and Ulvi Hasanli’s residence on November 20, followed by the arrest of Sevinj Vagifgizi. Allegations emerged of the discovery of 40,000 euros at the site’s office, which Hasanli contested, claiming the money was placed there by others. Hasanli and Vagifgizi were charged under Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code for smuggling.

The deputy director of the site, Mahammad Kekalov, was also detained on November 20, with no immediate information available regarding his location or charges. Later, it was disclosed that he too was detained in connection with the same criminal case, and a court subsequently issued an arrest warrant against him.

Further developments ensued, with the detention of Aziz Orujov, executive director of “Kanal 13” internet television, on November 27. The Sabail District Court, on November 28, ordered a three-month pretrial detention for Orujov during the investigative phase, under Article 188.2 of the Criminal Code for alleged unauthorized construction on a plot of land. However, her legal counsel contested this accusation and expressed intentions to file an appeal.

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