Access to information faces increasing restrictions

June 6th, 2012
Today media representatives and civil society institutes met at IRFS to discuss the current state of freedom of information in Azerbaijan.

The key focus of the discussion was the recently proposed amendments to the laws “On the right to obtain information”, “On commercial secrets” and “On state registration and state registry of legal entities”.  These expected amendments will in all probability restrict public access to information.

Media Rights Institute director Rashid Hajili noted that the two laws regarding business activities are the most dangerous. These amendments intend to protect information about companies and ownership. The government is believed to be more interested in these particular amendments. Officials were criticized for failing to provide justification for the draft laws. It was also noted that this level of secrecy is an obstacle in the struggle against corruption.

Lawyer Alasgar Mammadli emphasized that laws to protect business information will make it difficult to obtain information. Currently, the court can compel information owners to provide information. But once these amendments are adopted, they will have the right to reject requests for access to information. Mammadli added that the Azerbaijani government has undertaken obligations before the Council of Europe regarding freedom of information. He portrayed these amendments as an indicator of the government’s desire to leave the Council of Europe.

All those present agreed on the importance of informing international organizations and US state Secretary Hillary Clinton, who arrives in Baku tomorrow morning, about these restrictive amendments.

IRFS chairman Emin Huseynov proposed holding a Freedom of Information forum, with the participation of media organizations and civil society institutes, on June 11th.