Statement: The Online Expression is Under Assault in Azerbaijan

February 15th, 2013

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The Expression Online coalition is deeply troubled by the Azerbaijani government’s prospects of grabbing control over the Internet and calls for an immediate end to crackdown on freedom of expression and Internet. At issue is a decision to vest the government-affiliated Azerbaijan’s National Press Council, which already oversees issues relating to ethics and standards in the mainstream media, with new authorities over the Internet.

As such, a commission was set up on February 14 under the Azerbaijan Press Council, with the mandate to handle citizens’ complaints about ethical violations online, hacker attacks on web pages and other issues related to online media.

The Expression Online coalition, comprised of the Azerbaijani freedom of expression NGOs and experts, is dismayed that Azerbaijani government has intensified its battle over regulation and censorship of the Internet.

The numerous statements by top government officials suggest that legal mechanisms of control shall be forthcoming, including the licensing of Internet-based television programming. For instance, in his January 10 statement  National Television and Radio Council Head Nushirevan Maharramli said the internet TV channels should be subject to licensing, just like the state-controlled nine Azerbaijani TV channels.

These worrisome statements, which were mostly made with regard to online video and audio content, show that the state intends to interfere with the online broadcast news not covered by local television and radio, and views that differ from the official positions.

 ‘We envisaged that Azerbaijan, pushing for international regulation of the Internet through the U.N. International Telecommunication Union will not quit after an ITU meeting in December 2012’, comments Emin Huseynov with Expression Online. What happened at an ITU meeting was just a first step in a larger plan over regulation and censorship of the Internet’, Huseynov said.

The Expression Online reminds that the Press Council restricted the activities of several critical newspapers by including them in its blacklist and declaring that they were “rackets”. The coalition therefore considers establishment of the Internet regulatory body under the Press Council to be a calculated step aimed at ruining online media.

IRFS urges the government to dissolve the newly established commission and refrain from keeping online media under control, and uphold the freedom of expression and internet.

The coalition calls on the government to reinforce country’s international obligations by aligning its Internet policy with the requirements of international law and principles, ensuring that the Internet remains an open and public forum for freedom of expression.

 

The Expression Online highlights the need for a robust Internet freedom strategy, which would establish the environmental, institutional and professional conditions necessary to guarantee Internet freedom for every citizen of Azerbaijan. The coalition is open for a dialogue with the government to discuss the challenges of Internet freedom and shape up multi-stakeholder strategy to promote Internet freedom in Azerbaijan.

In October 2012, the Expression Online coalition provided a set of recommendations to the authorities for steps needed to improve Internet freedom in Azerbaijan. The Expression Online coalition urges the authorities to take these recommendations seriously and use them as a starting point in pursuing a comprehensive, multi-stakeholder strategy on Internet freedom.

Note for editors:

The Expression Online coalition, a consortium of Azerbaijani freedom of expression organizations including the Azerbaijan Human Rights Club, the Azerbaijan Media Center 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.

The recent publication of Expression Online is Searching for Freedom: Online Expression in Azerbaijan report, available at http://bit.ly/XCMJJd

For more information about Expression Online, visit its website at www.expressiononline.net