BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) – Authorities cut off broadcasts from Azerbaijan’s first independent TV station on Friday and ordered the eviction of opposition newspapers and organizations from their offices in the capital, moves government opponents called part of a campaign to silence dissent.

The former Soviet republic’s Economic Court ordered the eviction of tenants from a building that houses the editorial offices of the opposition newspapers Azadliq and Bizim yol, as well as the headquarters of the main opposition party, the Popular Front.

Tenants were given until this morning to vacate their offices, said Yashar Aliyev, a top police official in the capital. Police surrounded the building and allowed two people from each organization to remain, but would not let others in, said Mehman Aliyev, director of the Turan news agency, whose offices are also in the building.

Azadliq, which leases the building, had been warned of the pending eviction after a government property committee demanded thousands of dollars in back rent. Editor Ganimat Zahidov has been on a hunger strike since Nov. 9, and was hospitalized Friday after his health worsened, said Fuad Mustafayev, deputy chief of the Popular Front.

Earlier Friday, ANS television was pulled off the air by the government, which said the station – two days away from celebrating its 15th anniversary with a gala concert – had not extended its license.

ANS Vice President Mirshahin Agayev said the station received no official notification of the problem with its license, and that the government had made its move without the required court order.

“As always, we want to believe … that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev is the guarantor of democracy and security of people in Azerbaijan, and we think that the president will interfere and help clear up this misunderstanding,” Agayev said. ANS President Vahid Mustafayev later said the station would resolve the issue in the courts, suggesting it would sue or appeal to reverse the decision.

The Popular Front’s Fuad Mustafayev said the shut-off of ANS “resulted from the official policy of ending the right to free speech in Azerbaijan.”

Two other leading opposition parties, Musavat and the Democratic Party, lashed out at the government for what they called an attack on free speech. Musavat issued a statement saying it “sharply condemns these actions and demands an end to pressure and persecution against freedom of speech and the media.”

Opposition parties and independent media have suffered frequent harassment in the oil-rich Caspian Sea state, which Aliev has run since 2003. He succeeded his father, a former communist, in elections denounced by the opposition as neither free nor fair.

The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which represents 56 nations in Europe and North America, criticized the actions against ANS. The OSCE is “deeply concerned about the closure,” said Maurizio Pavesi, head of the OSCE’s Baku office, adding that he was “perplexed” that the decision came into force immediately without allowing for an appeal.

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