JOINT STATEMENT OF INSTITUTE FOR REPORTERS’ FREEDOM AND SAFETY STATEMENT and HUMAN RIGHTS CLUB

August 18th, 2011
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and Human Rights Club (HRC) are concerned about the statement by ruling New Azerbaijani Party (YAP) MP Bakhtiyar Hajiyev suggesting a need for restrictions on social netowrking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and deem it a threat to the freedom of expression.

Sadigov, also the editor-in-chief of Azerbaijan, the official press outlet of the Azerbaijani parliament, told Salamnews on August 16th that the British Prime Minister’s initiative on the restriction of social networking sites in Britain will act as a catalyst for similar efforts by Azerbaijani MPs: “…social networking sites should be controlled by law in Azerbaijan. I am not against the internet in Azerbaijan; however I want the arbitrariness of social networking sites to cease. I think the British PM’s comment about restricting social networking sites in Britain is a wise and timely step, because hundreds of people violated social order by destroying the streets and committing crimes during the riots.”
IRFS and HRC fear that this statement is aiming for the permanent suspension of the aforementioned social networking sites. This would deprive the Azerbaijani citizens of their right to access an alternative information source, discuss issues and express their opinions. Specifically, it is impossible for people with independent and oppositional views to express their opinion on any other virtual sites or mass media. The suspension of these sites will further restrict the already-limited freedom of assembly of citizens. The peaceful protests held in Azerbaijan in March and April were arranged through social networking sites.
IRFS and HRC note that on May 3, 2011, the UNESCO event on the International Press Freedom Day adopted the Washington Declaration, which emphasizes the importance of Internet and social networking sites for democratic discussion and civic involvement. IRFS and HRC also note that the said “initiative” of the British PM has not been repeated or discussed in Parliament, let alone legislated or implemented, and has indeed caused outrage in Britain.
IRFS and HRC call on the Azerbaijani authorities to refrain from blocking social networking sites and restrict the already limited freedom of expression in the country. IRFS and HRC also call on David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, a country with guaranteed freedom of expression, to refrain from such comments, which set a dangerous precedent and give license to governments of countries which are aiming to restrict freedom of expression.