Reporters Without Borders is surprised to learn that police prevented the staff of the opposition newspaper Azadlig from entering its premises yesterday at the behest of Agbey Askerov, the head of the state-owned publishing house Azerbaijan, which prints the newspaper. Askerov is demanding immediate repayment of a debt of 15,000 manats (15,000 euros), which he says dates back to 2003. Reporters Without Borders condemns the move, and sees it as a pretext for forcing the country’s main opposition newspaper to close. Askerov’s behaviour is all the more curious as he and Azadlig editor Ganimat Zahig had previously agreed that the debt would be paid off in monthly instalments. The government’s decision to delay disbursement of 20,000 manats in state aid to Azadlig until the debt is fully paid is therefore also very puzzling. President Ilham Aliyev had announced on 22 July, national press day, that a total of 32 pro-government and opposition newspapers, including Azadlig, would each receive a donation of 20,000 manats as a gesture of state support for the media. By demanding prior repayment of the debt, the government is preventing Azadlig from receiving its share of the state aid. Zahid has appealed to Press Council about this, but so far no action has been taken. Violations of freedom of expression are common in Azerbaijan, which was ranked 146th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Journalists are subject to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and beatings. Eynulla Fatullayev, the editor of two newspapers that are now closed, has been held since 2007 and is serving a total of more than 10 years in jail sentences. Two bloggers, Adnan Hadjizade and Emin Milli, are serving jail terms of 24 and 30 months respectively after been convicted on trumped-up charges of assault in connection with an incident in which they were the ones who were attacked. In the latest case of violence against journalists, two newspaper reporters, Elmin Badalov of Yeni Musavat and Anar Gerayly of Milli Yol, were attacked on 28 July while taking photos of luxury villas owned by transport minister Ziya Mammadov and members of his family. Several men emerged from cars, pushed them to the ground, grabbed their camera and deleted the photographs they had taken of the houses. Their unidentified assailants held them for more than three hours, interrogated them, threatened to have them put under surveillance for six months and finally warned them not file any complaint. The Yeni Musavat management complained to the interior ministry.