Friday, January 15, 2016
Azerbaijan's internet cannot be considered free, finds a recent report by the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS).

Azerbaijan's internet cannot be considered free, finds a recent report by the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS). Although the internet is supposedly the only remaining platform for dissent in Azerbaijan, more than 30 online activists were criminally prosecuted or intimidated by the authorities, between July 2014 and November 2015.

Free Press Unlimited supported the monitoring of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, as part of the regional project on Internet freedom in the South Caucasus. Despite the efforts of the critical bloggers and the monitoring, the internet freedom in Azerbaijan has deteriorated.

Killings and witch hunting
The report highlights several different ways in which Azerbaijani authorities stifle freedom of expression online. Among the most pressing threats are the introduction of legal restrictions on the internet in 2013, the shut down of Objective TV (an independent online news source), the announcement of a witch hunt against Berlin-based Meydan TV and most recently the killing of IRFS chairman, the photoreporter Rasim Aliyev, in August 2015.

Although state filtering and direct censorship are not major problems in the country, internet freedom remains precarious, judging by the criminal prosecution and intimidation of more than 30 online activists, says the report:

“Cyber-activists who provide the online audiences with information risk being arrested, harassed, held incommunicado and given long jail terms on bogus charges such as drug possession or hooliganism.”

“Self-censorship – in some cases replaced with anonymity — pervades the online sphere as intimidation has risen, due to the arrests and detentions of online activists and journalists.” For example, the authorities managed to identify the administrator of the anonymous satirical page PAZ TV, famous for mocking Azerbaijani officials. Facebook revealed that the page was administered by three Azerbaijani exiles. Although it was not possible for the regime to target these activists directly, they were compelled to tone down the content, fearing for the safety of their family members in Azerbaijan.

The report examines the state of freedom of expression online at a time when most prominent dissenters have been effectively silenced by the regime either by being put to prison or by being obliged to leave the country.