Statement: Internet Freedom Put in a Stranglehold in Azerbaijan

February 4th, 2013

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The Expression Online Coalition (EOC) strongly condemns the Azerbaijan’s government crackdown on the Internet freedom after the regime sentenced a well known blogger Emin Milli and other civil society activists to the administrative detention and ordered them to pay huge fines for organizing a peaceful protest via Facebook.As such, based on the Article 298.1[1] of the Administrative Error Code, the court sentenced Emin Milli to 15 days of administrative detention and imposed 2,500 AZN(2.348 EUR) fine[2] on youth activist Turgut Gambar, for using Facebook to make calls for participation in the opposition protest held in the center of Baku on January 26, 2013.

The court decision states that the activists, who are accused of making calls on Facebook, placed “illegal” appeals on Facebook and invited citizens to take part in illegal protest and procession. The activists reiterated in their testimonies and at court hearings that they did nothing illegal by disseminating invitations on Facebook for participation in peaceful protest and that on the contrary, this right is given to them by the Constitution of Azerbaijani Republic.

The authorities have increased surveillance of the Internet and social networks since the 7thInternet Governance Forum that Baku hosted last year, said Emin Huseynov, EOC member and Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) Chair. The wave of authorities’ crackdown on Internet includes pressure on internet-café owners in Ismayilli city not to open their cafes until the protest ended, slow-down of the speed of internet in Ismayilli and cyber attacks on news portals on the day of Baku protest (January 12).

‘There is a contradiction between these restrictions on the freedom of internet and the repeated statements of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that internet is completely free in Azerbaijan’, said Emin Huseynov.

‘Above all, these actions contravene the Universal Declaration of human rights which says people have the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,’ Huseynov said.

The Expression Online Coalition believes that such actions can indirectly lead to self-censorship among internet users.

The Expression Online Coalition calls on the government to ensure Azerbaijan upholds international standards regarding the right to freedom of expression and this right is respected and guaranteed both offline and online. The coalition calls on the government to guarantee unlimited Internet access and communication for every citizen of Azerbaijan.

Specifically, the Expression Online Coalition calls on the Azerbaijan’s government to:

  • Immediately release Emin Milli who received 15 days of administrative detention for his Facebook activity;
  • Immediately withdraw2,500 AZN fine imposed on Turgut Gambar for his Facebook activity;
  • Immediately release journalist Faramaz Novruzoglu, who was arrested in 2012 for statements he posted on Facebook, and journalists Vugar Gonagov and Zaur Guliyev, who were arrested for uploading a video on Youtube.; and
  • Launch objective Investigation into the case of intimidation of the Internet café owners during social unrest in Ismayilli.

The Expression Online is a pioneer campaign launched in May 2012 by a consortium of Azerbaijani freedom of expression organizations including the Azerbaijan Media Center, the Human Rights Club and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS). The Expression Online Coalition seeks to develop best practices and promote an informed public dialogue to advance Internet access and freedom in Azerbaijan.

More about situation with internet freedom in Azerbaijan here

 


[1]Violation of the rules of organizing and conducting rallies, demonstrations, street processions and pickets

[2]According to the State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan, minimum wage in Azerbaijan is 93,5 AZN per month.