US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen (AFP)
The Azeri court of appeal on Friday ordered the shutdown of an independent television station over its plan to air an interview with Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric accused by the government in Ankara of being behind the recent abortive coup in Turkey.
The court revoked the license of the ANS based on a lawsuit filed by the National Television and Radio Council (NTRC). Azerbaijan's law allows authorities to close media deemed to be broadcasting extremist propaganda or discriminating on ethnic grounds, among other offences.
Representatives of the ANS decried the court ruling, saying it was an undemocratic move. They now plan to file a formal appeal.
The ANS is owned by three Azeri businessmen and is widely seen as an independent news outlet.
Analysts say the ANS was the only independent TV channel in Azerbaijan and its closure could be politically motivated.
The logo of Azerbaijani News Service (ANS) television station
Earlier this month, Azeri authorities ordered the cessation of the activities of Zaman-Azerbaycan daily, and blocked access to its website over alleged affiliation to Gulen’s network. Zaman-Azerbaycan had been in circulation since May 24, 1991.
Azerbaijan and Turkey have close politico-cultural ties.
The Turkish government has been a firm supporter of Baku in its conflict with pro-Armenia fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims his former ally Gulen, who has a big following in all private and public sectors in Turkey, masterminded the deadly July 15 coup attempt.
Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States over the past 17 years, denies the accusation. He argues that the coup scenario may have been designed by Erdogan himself as a pretext to justify the stifling of dissent.
Meanwhile, the government in Baku says Azerbaijan enjoys full freedom of speech and a lively opposition media.

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