Turkey Expels Critical Azeri Journalist

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Turkey has deported an Azeri journalist for tweets criticizing the government, his newspaper reported Friday, as concerns grow about state efforts to muzzle the media.

Mahir Zeylanov's expulsion has yet to be officially confirmed, although a photo doing the rounds on Twitter appeared to show him being escorted by police through an airport.

It comes after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government this week passed new Internet curbs that sparked concern in Brussels and Washington.

Zeylanov works for the Zaman daily, a paper critical of the government and close to Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher living in the United States who Erdogan has blamed for orchestrating a recent corruption probe against members of his inner circle.

The newspaper said that Zeylanov was put on a list of foreign individuals barred from entering Turkey because of "posting tweets against high-level state officials".

It cited a Turkish law that allows deportations of those "whose residence in Turkey is considered detrimental to public security and political and administrative requirements".

Zeynalov is already the target of a criminal complaint filed by Erdogan for tweets in December about the graft probe, with the prime minister saying he posted "heavy insults and swear words in a bid to provoke the nation to hatred and animosity," Zaman reported.

US-based rights group Freedom House said in a report this week that Erdogan's government is "improperly using its leverage over media to limit public debate about government actions and punish journalists and media owners who dispute government claims".

Over the past year dozens of journalists have been fired because of government pressure, and threats by government officials against journalists have become common, Freedom House said.

Erdogan has responded to the corruption probe, which has implicated members of his inner circle and their families, by sacking or reassigning thousands of police and prosecutors thought to be close to Gulen.

Erdogan, in power since 2003 and facing important local elections on March 30, is also seeking to push through legislation that critics say will impinge on the independence of the judiciary.

The political instability, coming on the back of a heavy-handed response to protests last June in which six people died, is taking its toll on Turkey's economy, with the lira sliding to record lows in recent months.

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