Azerbaijan’s Government Determined to Kill Internet Freedom

Jun 5th, 2013 | By | Category: Azerbaijan, Freedom of Speech, News

Baku, June 05–The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely President Aliyev’s signing the draconian amendments to the Criminal Code that make defamation over the Internet a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment. The amendments represent a major blow to freedom of expression ahead of a presidential election in the already tightly controlled environment.

On Tuesday, President Aliyev signed a bill passed by the parliament that would criminalize defamatory and offensive views expressed on the internet. Now it is possible to launch a criminal case against online activists posting critical views on the internet referring to the Articles 147 and 148 of the Criminal Code, and jail them for up to three years.

‘These amendments represent serious steps away from international norms. They would criminalize many exercises of freedom of expression online and empower the security services to take action’, comments IRFS CEO and Chairman Emin Huseynov.

IRFS also continues to call for an end to the campaign of harassment against critics of the government. ‘The draconian Internet defamation law, unfortunately, do not represent a step in the right direction’, Huseynov noted.

IRFS emphasizes that the approval of these amendments is a disrespect not only to the government’s commitments to uphold the freedom of expression and internet, but also the president’s own order to improve the national legislation (through, inter alia, the ‘National Action Program for increasing the efficiency of the protection of human rights and freedoms in the Republic of Azerbaijan’) to an end to criminal defamation laws which encourage self-censorship thereby restricting freedom of expression.

While hosting the UN Internet Governance Forum in November of 2012, Azerbaijani authorities tried to convince the world community that Azerbaijan is country with a free internet, and the government intends to carry out more important reforms in this field. Last of such persuasions was made by President Ilham Aliyev on May 29 at Azerbaijan-US: Vision for Future Forum, where he tried to convince hundreds of US politicians attending the event that ‘Azerbaijan is an area of fully free media and internet’. However approval of these amendments by the president shows that his pledges regarding human rights and the real actions taken in this area are in contradiction to one-another.

IRFS reminds that following adoption of these amendments by the parliament on May 14, a number of local and international organizations, including OSCE Special Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks, sent an appeal to the president calling on him to refrain from signing the amendments and put a veto on this bill. But despite of all this, the president signed these amendments.

Apart from being in contradiction to both Azerbaijani Constitution and the country’s international obligations, the criminal prosecution of journalists and bloggers for their free opinions exert ‘chilling effect’ on the media.
The UN Human Rights Committee, the independent body of experts that provides the definitive interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has said that ‘defamation laws must be crafted with care to ensure that they… do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression. … States parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation and, in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty’.

Despite of being a state party to the ICCPR, Azerbaijan ignores its provisions, which shows that international legal instruments the country has ratified have little importance for her.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to live up to the standards and commitments reflected in the European Convention of Human Rights, the Helsinki Accords, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Toward that end, IRFS urges the government of Azerbaijan to repeal the laws that would constrict fundamental freedoms and human rights and fulfill the country’s human rights obligations undertaken before international organizations.

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.

STATEMENT

IRFS seeks answers on police brutality against media

Baku, June 04 The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns violence against journalists by the Baku police during the past few days. IRFS calls on the government to put an end to attacks and physical abuse of journalists.

At least four journalists have received particularly harsh treatment at the hands of law-enforcers while covering peaceful demonstrations in support of Occupy Gezi (the protests that have gripped Turkey since May 27) in Turkey. These journalists are: ANS TV’s Elnara Mammadova and Firuz Aghayev and IRFS’s Rasim Aliyev and Mehman Huseynov.
IRFS’s Rasim Aliyev was subject to the particular police brutality—well-documented by his colleague, Mehman Huseynov. The footage shows Aliyev being violently slammed by policeman.

‘A growing number of attacks on journalists covering riots and demos, and the Baku-based foreign corps’ continued silence on the issue, are drawing concern’, comments IRFS CEO and Chair Emin Huseynov. Reporters should be able to do their work covering demos and protests, so long as they are not breaking laws or interfering with police action, he stressed.

Law-enforcement agencies have a constitutional responsibility not to prevent or obstruct the work of media during public demonstrations, and journalists have a right to expect fair and restrained treatment by the police. The interference in the working of the media is the violation of the right of access to information, guaranteed under Article 50 of the Azerbaijani Constitution (freedom of information) and Article 10 of the European Convention (freedom of expression). Not the least, impeding professional activities of a journalist creates liability under Article 163 of the Criminal Code.

As the member of the OSCE Azerbaijan has committed to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and has guaranteed to create the conditions whereby journalists are able to work without legal or administrative obstacles[1]. Azerbaijan is committed to “condemn all attacks on and harassment of journalists and will endeavor to hold those directly responsible for such attacks and harassment accountable.”[2] In addition, the ODIHR Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly clarifies the role of the media.[3]
In its groundbreaking resolution on safety of journalists, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned in the strongest terms all attacks and violence against journalists, including intimidation and harassment.

The Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media issued a special report in 2007 on how to treat media during public protests. It is available athttp://www.osce.org/fom/25744

IRFS calls on the authorities to carry out full and impartial investigations in order to identify and punish the police officers responsible for these abuses, because impunity just encourages more violence.

IRFS further calls on the Azerbaijani President to give a personal order for investigation of such attacks.

IRFS also 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 obligations regarding freedom of expression.

[1] Copenhagen Meeting Of The Conference On The Human Dimension Of The CSCE (June 1990) (7.8)

[2] Towards a Genuine Partnership in a new era (CSCE Summit, Budapest) Chapter VIII, Human Dimension Tolerance and non-discrimination.

[3] “Journalists have an important role to play in providing independent coverage of public assemblies. As such, they must be distinguished from participants and be given as much access as possible by the authorities.” Section A ‘Implementing legislation on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly’ (9) p17.

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The image shows Aliyev being violently slammed by policeman.

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