State Dept `deeply disturbed` by Azerbaijan radio raid

 The State Department is "deeply disturbed" by reports that prosecutors raided Azerbaijan`s local Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty office Friday, a US official said, calling the motive for the episode "unclear."

Washington: The State Department is "deeply disturbed" by reports that prosecutors raided Azerbaijan`s local Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty office Friday, a US official said, calling the motive for the episode "unclear."

Prosecutors in the tightly-controlled Caucasus nation searched the offices of US-funded Radio Azadliq, confiscating equipment and computers while accompanied by armed police, its director Kenan Aliyev told AFP.

The search was the latest in a string of similar raids on foreign-funded groups in recent months.

"We are deeply disturbed by reports that employees of the RFE/RL bureau in Baku have been detained in their offices and questioned while the premises were searched by police," a senior State Department official said.

"The reasons for the questioning and search are unclear."

Those searching the office whose telephone and Internet lines were cut, said they had a court order to shut it down and forced journalists out, Aliyev said.

The move came after a prominent investigative reporter working for Radio Azadliq, Khadija Ismayilova, was arrested in early December and placed in pre-trial detention for two months.

"We call on the responsible authorities to respect Azerbaijan`s international commitment to protecting media freedom," the State Department official said.

"A free and independent press is critical to the wellbeing of the nation."

Non-governmental organisation groups focused on reporter and human rights called the move the latest crackdown against a free media in Azerbaijan, where dissent is often met with a tough government response.

Headquartered in Prague and funded by the US Congress, RFE/RL broadcasts to 21 countries across Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.

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