Azerbaijani Authorities Impose Alarming Internet Control

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns today’s decision of a court in Baku to reject a complaint against inhuman treatment filed by the imprisoned blogger and human rights defender Mehman Huseynov. The decision comes within 24 hours of the government blocking critical news websites throughout the country.

“The mass website blocking without any government explanation or court order is both illegal and unjustified,” said IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov. “The fact that the leading Azerbaijani blogger is behind bars amid increasingly widespread instances of blocking of critical websites suggests that Azerbaijan is just like Belarus or China.” said IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov, ”Based on the work Mehman has done to report corruption and injustice online we feel these two events have a strong connection”, Huseynov noted.

On 28 March, Mehman Huseynov, IRFS Chairman and popular blogger, was back in court. The Sabail District Court considered an appeal of the Baku prosecutor’s decision not to investigate Mehman’s torture claims. The court continued the pattern of denying motions filed by the defendant’s lawyers. Aytan Aliyeva was the presiding judge and she also denied the appeal over all.

There were three important motions filed during the hearing. The lawyers motioned to have more time to read the 134-page investigation document presented to them by the court. The judge denied the motion and gave the lawyers 30 minutes to review and understand the investigation document.

The lawyers then motioned to have witnesses called to testify in the case. The judge denied this motion as well. In the same vein the lawyers motioned to have an expert medical examiners testimony admitted and the judge denied this motion.

On the night of 27 March at 5pm the Azerbaijani government blocked (Azadliq newspaper’s website) and (the website of Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijani Service). This appears to be done as enforcement of the bill passed on 10 March allowing the government to immediately shutdown websites and explains their reasoning later. The bill is another example of the recent intensification of the crackdown that has been plaguing Azerbaijanis’ freedom of expression since 2014 and before.

The UN Human Rights Council has passed two resolutions since 2012 affirming people’s digital rights, including a groundbreaking resolution in 2016 which “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measures.”

“Internet freedom in the modern age is inextricable from a healthy democracy. We need to loosen the reigns of government on the internet not tighten them as this law has done.” Emin Huseynov IRFS CEO and co-founder said.

We call on the government of Azerbaijan to loosen their grip on internet freedom and to release Mehman Huseynov as he has been targeted due to his free expression on the internet.
We also call on international organisations to pressure the government of Azerbaijan and to hold them to account for their repressive tactics.

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