The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the developing of a new law for protection of honor and dignity of the president by Azerbaijani Parliament (Milli Meclis) and quotes the Venice Commission as noting in its opinion on Azerbaijan’s draft law on protection from defamation that critical views about the activities of the president must not be interpreted as discreditation or humiliation of the president’s honor and dignity.
IRFS notes that adoption of a special bill to protect the honor and dignity of the president against the failure to adopt a law decriminalizing defamation is yet another sophisticated tactic of the Azerbaijani government to silence dissenters.
Commenting on the bill local media experts noted that protection of the honor and dignity of the president in particular is violation of the right to equality of people and adoption of this law may have a negative impact on the freedom of speech and press and further shrink the space for critical opinions.
IRFS reminds that the OSCE and the Council of Europe have both emphasized the importance of the decriminalization of defamation. However the fact that Milli Meclis has not included such a law in the agenda of its fall session, despite of the Venice Commission remarks in the opinion, bespeaks the government’s unwillingness to decriminalize defamation.
“Even stipulation of criminal liability for humiliation of the president’s honor and dignity under article 323 of the criminal law is, in itself, violation of the right to freedom of expression. Humiliation of honor and dignity must not create criminal liability. Once adopted, this law will be used for suppression of alternative views” said IRFS CEO and Chairman Emin Huseynov.
IRFS also reminds that another bill passed into law in June of this year extends the criminalization of defamation to the Internet. Today, discussion of yet another draconian bill demonstrates Azerbaijani authorities’ disrespect to freedom of expression and their failure to comply with international human rights obligations.
IRFS calls on Azerbaijani Parliament, Milli Meclis to refrain from discussing the draft and instead take immediate steps to decriminalize defamation.
IRFS further calls on the international community, in particular the Council of Europe and the OSCE, to take a stronger stance and exert greater pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities to fulfill their international human rights obligations.