Baku: Prosecutors in Azerbaijan on Friday raided the offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty`s local service, according to its director who condemned the move as a crackdown on free media in the tightly controlled Caucasus nation.
Prosecutors searched the offices of US-funded Radio Azadliq "accompanied by armed police, saying they have a court order to shut down the office," its director Kenan Aliyev told AFP.
"Our equipment and computers are being confiscated. Journalists are being forced out of the office. Our telephone and Internet lines are down," he said.
"What happens is just part of an overall crackdown on free media in Azerbaijan."
Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders condemned the raid and said RFE/RL was "the latest victim of the government`s campaign to stamp out media pluralism".
"Words fail for describing the scale of the crackdown under way in Azerbaijan," Johann Bihr, head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia for Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement.
"President Ilham Aliyev`s government is methodically crushing each of the remaining independent news outlets one by one. International bodies and Azerbaijan`s foreign partners need to respond firmly to such determined ruthlessness."
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.
Amnesty International condemned her arrest as a move to "gag free media" in Azerbaijan.
In a statement earlier this month, President Aliyev`s chief of staff, Ramiz Mehdiev, accused Radio Azadliq journalists of "treason", calling them a "fifth column" working for foreign security services.
In recent months, Azerbaijani prosecutors have staged similar raids on other foreign-funded groups, including the Baku offices of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute.
Dissent in Azerbaijan is often met with a tough government response. Rights groups say authorities have been clamping down on opponents since Aliyev`s election to a third term last year.
Aliyev, 53, came to power in 2003 following a controversial election.
He took over after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and Communist-era leader who had ruled newly independent Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993.
Headquartered in Prague and funded by the US Congress, RFE/RL broadcasts to 21 countries across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East.