Azerbaijani Government Takes Big Steps to Keep Online Media under Control, as Parliament Adopts Restrictive Law related to Information

➢ The relevant executive authority will immediately warn the website and its host provider in the event of detecting information prohibited from dissemination. Upon receipt of the warning, the website owner must immediately remove that information from the website;
➢ Unless the prohibited information is deleted within 8 hours of warning, the relevant executive authority will appeal to court to restrict the website;
➢ MP Siyavush Novruzov underlined the importance of further tightening of legislation and entry of the identity card number when writing comments on social media.

On 10 March, a bill of amendments to the laws on “Information, Informatisation and Protection of Information” and “Telecommunications” was put up for discussion at a plenary meeting of Milli Meclis (Parliament). Presenting the bill, Vice-Speaker, Chairwoman of Human Rights Committee Bahar Muradova noted that the objective of the proposed amendments was ensuring cyber-security, prevention of cyber-attacks, establishment of rules for creating and registering an internet information resource and disseminating information on an internet information resource, prevention of the publication of prohibited information on an internet information resource, determining liability for violation of these rules, and improving the legislation in the field of information, informatisation and protection of information.

According to the bill, in case of detection of prohibited information on a website, the relevant executive authority (expected to be the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies) will immediately warn the website and its host provider. Upon receipt of the warning, the website owner is obliged to immediately remove that information from the website. Unless the prohibited information is deleted within 8 hours of warning, the relevant executive authority will appeal to court to restrict the website. If the information poses a danger for the state or society, the relevant authority will shut down the website without a court decision and then apply to court. Access to the website restricted by the authority will be blocked until the completion of judicial review. The court will consider this appeal within 5 days.

A registry of closed-down resources will also be developed. To this end, the relevant authority will prepare a “list of websites containing prohibited information.” Providers have to block access to the resources included in this list.

Besides, providers of all levels will be registered. Based on requests of law enforcement agencies, courts and executive authorities, providers must present information on users within 3 days.

According to the bill, new rules will be defined for registration of national domain names. All legal entities must necessarily upload information about themselves on their internet resources.

The draft law reads that the owner of an internet information resource and its domain name should avoid uploading the following prohibited information on that information resource:

• information on promotion and financing of terrorism, methods and tools of carrying out terrorist acts, and organising or conducting training with the purpose of terrorism, as well as open encouragement of terrorism;
• information on promotion of violence and religious extremism, and open encouragement of national, racial or religious hatred and enmity, violent change of the constitutional system of the state, disintegration of territorial integrity, violent seizure and retention of power, and organisation of mass disorders;
• information constituting state secret;
• information on procedure and methods of preparation of firearms, component parts, ammunition, and explosives;
• information on methods and procedure of preparation and use of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors, places where they can be illegally purchased, as well as places and methods of cultivation of plants containing narcotic drugs;
• information on pornography, including child pornography;
• information encouraging organisation of gambling and other illegal betting games and participation in such games;
• information promoting suicide as a solution to problems, condoning suicide, justifying or encouraging its committal, explaining methods of committing suicide, or information disseminated with the purpose of organising a group suicide of several people;
• information of an offensive and libellous nature, as well as information violating privacy;
• information infringing intellectual property rights;
• Other information prohibited from dissemination by laws of Azerbaijan.

The bill was discussed by parliamentarians. MP Siyavush Novruzov said it was important to further tighten the bill on information security. He noted that it was necessary to require a login with identity card data before writing comments on social networks. “Internet is completely free in our country. Anyone insults whoever he wants, without understanding that his words are read by all people. They create a fake profile and write whatever they want. In that case, the owner of the internet portal must be called to account. Or, an identity card login should be required. They create a portal abroad and put up articles on Azerbaijani army and soldiers, and, others pick up news from there and repost it. The same person then deletes such false news stories. You find out that they are those who have fled the country somehow. Such information affects the society,” Novruzov said.

The MP also commented on the media reports on suicides. According to him, there are European countries that top the list according to the number of suicides in the world, but despite Azerbaijan having a massively smaller suicide rate, the information is exaggerated. “Weren’t there suicides or car crashes during Soviet times? Internet sites put more important issues aside and move these issues to the foreground for popularity. By so doing, they encourage others to do the same. All of our television channels broadcast crime news. Trying to gain points by hastily presenting the information to the public is not the right thing to do. This kind of information leads some people in negative directions,” Novruzov added.

Press Council chairman, MP Aflatun Amashov in turn noted that some forces both inside and outside the country were interested in interpreting the bill as a restriction.

According to Amashov, internet plays a role in the system of legal relationships in many leading countries around the world. “This means that online space has transformed from being virtual into being real. As a result, specific types of responsibility have been determined. The same process goes on in Azerbaijan, and it should. Of course, there are certain issues open to debate, because this is essentially a new and dynamic area. There is always a need to discuss something. At this stage, we should not forget that we live in a state of war. Regulation of online space is necessary for information security of our country. You can be sure that these amendments do not imply arestriction of the freedom of speech and expression in any way. We have always stated that the landscape produced by the development of the internet manifests itself mainly in the example of online media outlets. They are closer to society. Negative or positive sides of their activity have more impact on society. Public criticism stemming from such negative effects is directed to the journalism as a whole. Therefore, I believe that the amendments are useful, first and foremost, for people who care about the profession of journalism,” the Press Councilchairman noted, emphasising the importance of the legislative amendments.

The draft law was not opposed by anyone and was unanimouslyaccepted.

Note that, the government has been seeking to regulate and control online media and websites for several years now. MP Malahat Ibrahimgizi and Hadi Rajabli have already made initiatives in this regard. Press Council chairman, MP Aflatun Amashov has also been one of the protagonists of regulation of online media.

Serious steps have been taken towards restriction of freedom of expression in the first months of 2017. Several youths have been sentenced to administrative imprisonment on various charges due to their blogging activity. The new law will provide a legal basis for further toughening of punishments.

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