JOINT STATEMENT OF INSTITUTE FOR REPORTERS’ FREEDOM AND SAFETY AND DEMOCRACY MONITOR

April 18th, 2011
Internet freedom is in increasing danger in Azerbaijan, a Council of Europe Member State which has taken obligations before this organization. This danger has stemmed from the authorities’ intolerance against freedom of expression.

Today, the authorities block access to the group accounts created in Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, persecute youth activists who express their political view on internet, and charge youth internet activists with trumped up accusations. Sumgayit State University student Jabbar Savalanli was brought up on criminal charges under a false drugs charge because of his Facebook campaign for political and human rights, and Harvard graduate Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was brought up on criminal charges under the charge of dodging military service because of his political activity.

An international search has been announced for the blogger and journalist Elnur Majidli, who is settled in France at present. He is one of the founders of the 11 March – Great People’s Day, 2 April – Great Rage Day and 17 April – Great Union Day, which were created ahead of the protests against the misappropriation of political power in Azerbaijan, persecution of political opponents, strangle of freedom of speech and in-depth corruption. Prior to this, in 2009, youth bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were arrested on set-up hooliganism charges and released 16 months later dues to long-term international pressure. The number of the youth bloggers expelled from universities for their articles is increasing.

Internet service is under a united state monopoly in Azerbaijan, the development of mobile internet is deliberately delayed. Specifically, despite the fact that mobile operators have capacity to move to 3G and 4G technologies, they are refused a relevant license. It is not even possible to speak about the development of internet in the regions and the internet prices in Azerbaijan are many times higher than it is in neighboring countries.

On the eve of the political protest actions and at the time of such actions, access to the newspapers’ websites and news portals is by hampered by lowering the speed of internet channels. Additionally, access to www.eqreb.com, and www.susmayaq.biz websites was permanently blocked, and at the same time access to Radio Liberty’s website has been blocked at different times. Moreover, the websites of oppositional newspapers and news websites have suffered virtual attacks arranged by the authorities.

Despite the adoption of a law on the electronic signature in Azerbaijan, the law has not been practiced up to now. This is believed to be part of the politically motivated delay of the successful application of Information Technologies in the country.

Recently, the Azerbaijani parliament has been campaigning against social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, and the internet services and these networks are blamed to be a tool of ‘foreign forces’ used against Azerbaijan. It it goes on, and it is not ruled out these might be banned in Azerbaijan in near future.

We believe that the internet concern of the authorities is related with the wave of revolution appeared in Arabian countries in recent period.

We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to fulfill its international obligations  to ensure and protect  the freedom of expression and internet, to release the jailed bloggers and journalist and to ensure the freedom of internet in general.

We believe that the exclusive role in the increase of the people’s recent protests in authoritarian countries will trigger the wills of the authorities in a number of authoritarian countries to keep the internet under control. In this regard, the Council of Europe Member State regimes with authoritarian ruling will enhance the control of internet. There appears a need for a new single legal document of Council of Europe which could prevent implementation of the said negative plans.

We call on the Council of Europe, of which Azerbaijan is a member state and has undertaken obligations before, and other international organizations to demand Azerbaijan to fulfill these obligations, release jailed youth bloggers and internet activists, as well as imprisoned journalist Eynulla Fatullayev suspend the ungrounded criminal case against journalist Elnur Majidli and ensure the freedom of the internet.