IRFS condemns amendments restricting the freedom of information

June 14th, 2012
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns the amendments to the laws “On the right to obtain information”, “On state registration and state registry of legal entities” and “On commercial secrets” adopted by Azerbaijani Parliament on June 12th 2012 and deems this step on the part of the government as a purpose to restrict the freedom of information and to foster an environment conducive to the growth of corruption.

The IRFS believes that the reason behind the immediate adoption of the amendments proposed by the president is the government’s intention to keep the information about political circles confidential. From this perspective, the new amendments contradicting Azerbaijani Constitution and international conventions will undoubtedly promote the development of corruption and organized crime in the country.
 
The IRFS declares that these amendments are aimed at restricting freedom of expression and increasing state control on mass media. Such a political action on the part of the government is nothing but an intention to limit citizens’ access to information. These amendments allow public officials not to respond to journalists’ inquires timely and thoroughly, and avoid criminal responsibility for doing so.
 
According to the amendments to the law “On the right to obtain information” access to information shall be released provided that it is not contradictory to purposes of the protection of political, economical, military, financial and credit and monetary interests of the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the protection of public order, health and morality, protection of rights and freedoms, commercial and other economic interests of other individuals, ensuring the prestige and impartiality of the court.
 
Such restrictive amendments are contrary to the Article 10.2 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to which Azerbaijan has also joined (The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary). The new amendments to Azerbaijani legislation are different from the provision stated in this article: that is why it can be considered an act of restricting the freedom of information.
 
After the amendment to law “On commercial secrets” comes into effect, the information about the founders of commercial legal entities and their shares in the charter capital shall be considered confidential. This information shall only be disclosed based on an inquiry to the courts and investigative bodies. This amendment contradicts the provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption, and the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy
 
The IRFS is concerned that the amendments to the above-mentioned three laws will restrict the freedom of information in the country, violating the principles of information transparency of legal entities and public control over their activities, thus violating the principles of democratic governance.
 

IRFS calls upon the Azerbaijani government to immediately nullify such restrictive amendments and to improve the existing legislation on freedom of information, and fulfill its obligations before international organizations.
 

IRFS also calls upon the UN, the Council of Europe and the OSCE, of which Azerbaijan is a member and before whom it has undertaken to uphold the freedoms of expression and information, to protect the freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and to demand Azerbaijan to fulfill its obligations by ensuring the freedom of expression and freedom of information.