Expression Online Initiative: Internet is partly free in Azerbaijan

Internet is partly free in Azerbaijan. Despite the absence of the high incidence of blocking and filtering of websites, there is a criminal prosecution of Internet users for opinions expressed in social networks, giving rise to self-censorship. This is stated in the original version of the report: " Searching for Freedom: Online expression in Azerbaijan," worked out by the Expression Online Initiative campaign, which is conducted by the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Human Rights Club and Azerbaijan Media Center with support from IMS, NED, Soros Foundation, and the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan.

As reported by IRFS chair Emin Huseynov, a report is being prepared for the upcoming Internet Governance Forum, which is to be held in Baku this November. On November 5th the Expression Online Initiative campaign will hold a pre-event in Baku with participation of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank La Rue and other international experts.

The comments and recommendations from civil society organizations and experts made during the debate will be included in the final document that will be released late October. The report comprehensively studies the problems of Internet in Azerbaijan, including the legal framework, technical condition, the state of freedom of expression, etc.
The Director of Media Rights Institute, Rashid Hajili investigated Internet legal issues. According to him, there are no special laws regulating online content. Thus content is  governed by the laws on media, terrorism, cyber crime, and child pornography. There are gaps in the law concerning liability of internet service providers and there is no clear mechanism for blocking and filtering of content. As a result, providers may, by administrative guidance and without a court order to restrict access to websites and apply other restrictions.
One of the authors of the report, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, focused on low e-government implementation, problems in obtaining '.az' domain, etc.
International experts also played their part in the report.
According to Rebecca Vincent of Article 19, Azerbaijan as a member of international treaties guaranteeing freedom of expression should ensure internet freedom. However, there are facts about the persecution of citizens for expressing their critical views online. Therefore, the report has recommendations to stop such incidents.
Head of the Human Rights Club Rasul Jafarov said, the report demands the release of the arrested cyber dissidents including human right defender  Taleh Khasmammadov, website editor Nijat Aliyev, Khayal TV employees Vugar Gonagov and Zaur Guliyev, and Faramaz Allahverdiyev. The report also urges the Azerbaijani government to terminate criminal charges against IRFS reporter Mehman Huseynov and blogger Elnur Majidli and calls on to investigate the breach of privacy of Radio Liberty correspondent Khadija Ismayilova.
Summing up the discussion, IMS programme manager Gulnara Akhundova said that the report puts forward recommendations to ensure freedom and quality of Internet in Azerbaijan. Akhundova proposed set up an independent body of civil society representatives and experts, to regulate information and communication technologies.

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