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Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev

A district court in Baku has begun hearings into a demand by Azerbaijan's government to block the websites of four other independent media outlets, including the website of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

BAKU -- A district court in Baku has begun hearings into a demand by Azerbaijan's government to block the websites of four other independent media outlets, including the website of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

The lawsuit was filed by Faiq Farmanov, head of the Electronic Security Center under the Ministry of Transport, Communications, and High Technology.

The court session on April 27 was short. The hearing was adjourned until May 1 after lawyers representing the media outlets requested that all documents related to the case be presented to them.

According to documents submitted to the court, the ministry has limited access to the sites since March 27 on the instructions of the Prosecutor-General's Office.

Azerbaijan's top prosecutor ordered the limitations, claiming the websites of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service and the other media outlets "pose a threat" to Azerbaijan's national security.

The government ministry's lawsuit was filed by Farmanov to legally justify the prosecutor's order.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent called the ministry’s action an attempt at "blatant censorship that is intended to intimidate the independent press, and which shows nothing but contempt for basic rights and international conventions."

The moves to block the websites come after RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service published investigative reports about financial activities linked to members of President Ilham Aliyev’s family and his inner circle.

Those investigative reports were produced by RFE/RL in cooperation with the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

Police search the offices of Open Russia in Moscow on April 27.

Police have searched a Moscow office of Open Russia, an NGO backed by Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, stepping up pressure on the group two days before street protests it's seeking to organize.

Police have searched a Moscow office of Open Russia, an NGO backed by Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, stepping up pressure on the group two days before street protests it's seeking to organize.

Activist Maria Baronova said that 15 riot police came to the office at 4 p.m. on April 27 (1200 GMT/UTC) along with several other police. She said they presented no court order and gave no explanation for the search.

Open Russia Chairman Aleksandr Solovyov also reported the search on Twitter, saying the police had barred staff members from using their telephones.

"Authoritarianism in frontal view and in profile," Khodorkovsky said in a tweet with a photo showing camouflage-clad officers in an office hallway.

The search came a day after the Prosecutor-General's Office declared Open Russia to be an "undesirable" organization under a 2015 law the government has used to ban foreign organizations it claims pose a threat to the country.

A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said the designation applied only to Open Russia entities registered abroad, but the search increased pressure on the organization.

Open Russia has called for protests against President Vladimir Putin's government on April 29, seeking to build on anticorruption demonstrations that brought tens of thousands of people into the streets on March 26.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on April 26 that the authorities would react "within the framework of the law" if the unsanctioned rallies went ahead.

The March 26 protests were organized by opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who is trying to get on the ballot in March 2018 election in which Putin is expected to seek and win a new six-year term.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia's wealthiest businessman, built up Russia's largest oil company before he was imprisoned on charges his supporters say were trumped up, and the company's assets were stripped away by the state.

Khordorkovsky became an exile following his release in 2013 after 10 years in prison and lives in Britain, where he has gradually been building up Open Russia's profile and positioning it as a leading opposition force in Russia.

He has called on supporters to back Navalny's presidential bid.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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